Choices People Made: Legacies

"Today we come to say once and for all that what happened here forty years ago was simply wrong. It was evil, and we renounce it."
--Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, 1997

In 1958

In May, l958, Ernest Green, the only senior among the "Little Rock Nine," became the first African American student to graduate from Central High School. He said of his graduation:

"There were a lot of claps for the [white] students. They talked about who had received scholarships, who was an honor student, and all that as they called the names off. When they called my name there was nothing, just the name, and there was this eerie silence. Nobody clapped. But I figured they didn’t have to. Because after I got that diploma, that was it. I had accomplished what I had come there for."

In the summer of 1958, rather than allow integration to continue, Governor Orval Faubus, with the support of the state legislature and the school board, closed every high school in Little Rock. They remained closed until a determined group of white citizens organized a campaign to reopen them to both black and white students. Among the students who returned to Central High in the fall of 1959 were two of the "Little Rock Nine," Carlotta Walls and Jefferson Thomas. 

The Reverend Colbert Cartwright of the Pulaski Heights Christian Church said of efforts to integrate Little Rock schools:

"In the end, the law could not do it [integrate the schools]. A group of very dedicated people, women . . . marshaled . . . grassroots support to take back the schools and work on the desegregation problem. The lesson is that people themselves had to take responsibility for what they wanted their community to be. . . . They had to rally the good forces in the community to take back the schools, do more than a lackluster desegregation effort by some edict. This was work that should have been done prior to desegregation."

IN 1963

"More than any other single event in many years, Little Rock demonstrated the gaping discrepancy between the Declaration of Independence, one of the most precious documents of American history, and the reality of twentieth century America. . . . The impact on Americans and on the world was one of Little Rock’s historical contributions to the over-all crusade for rights and dignity. A second contribution that Little Rock made--a contribution by no means less significant or less dramatic--was its effect upon the Negro population in the United States and particularly upon those in the South. . . . They learned unmistakably that they possess irresistible power if they become conscious of it and unite to secure their unalienable rights."

--Daisy Bates, President, Arkansas NAACP


"This was the real significance of Little Rock: Faubus had forced a reluctant president into an irrevocable commitment to use his powers to protect and guarantee the declared rights of black citizens wherever they might be denied. Those who soon would rally by the thousands to march with Martin Luther King and the new generation of militant young leaders were no longer at the mercy of local authorities, the mobs they so often encouraged, and the state courts that were usually rigged against them. And everywhere outside the shrinking redoubt where the Citizens Councils held sway, public opinion was beginning to form behind the black cause. Orval Faubus was a hero to the mob; the nine courageous black children he failed to keep out of Central High were heroes to the world."

--Harry Ashmore, editor of the Little Rock Gazette


President Bill Clinton was an 11-year-old student at a segregated school in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1957. In 1997, he was President of the United States. He said of the “Little Rock Nine”: 

"Like so many Americans, I can never fully repay my debt to these nine people. For with their innocence, they purchased more freedom for me, too, and for all white people."

On the 40th anniversary of the crisis in Little Rock, Mike Huckabee, the Republican governor of Arkansas, told the “Little Rock Nine” and the world:

"Today we come to say once and for all that what happened here 40 years ago was simply wrong. It was evil, and we renounce it. What the people did who tried to hold those nine from entering the doors of this high school is forgivable, but it is not excusable."


On November 9, 1999, Congress awarded the Congressional Medal, the nation's highest civil honor, to the "Little Rock Nine:"

Ernest Green of New York City, New York
Melba Pattillo Beals of Sausalito, California
Elizabeth Eckford of Little Rock, Arkansas
Jefferson Thomas of Anaheim, California
Terrence Roberts of Los Angeles, California
Carlotta Walls of Englewood,Colorado
Minniejean Brown Trickery of Ontario, Canada
Gloria Ray Karlmark of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thelma Mothershed-Wair of Belleville, Illinois

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