On the morning of September 23, 1957, nine African-American teenagers held the line against an angry mob protesting integration in front of Little Rock’s Central High School. As the students met their new classmates for the first time inside the school, outside violence escalated and the Little Rock police removed the Nine from the school for their safety. The next day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to escort the nine students into the school. One of the nine later remembered, After three full days inside Central, I knew that integration is a much bigger word than I thought.
This event, broadcast across the nation and world, was the site of the first important test for the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of 1954. Arkansas became the epitome of state resistance when the governor, Orval Faubus, directly questioned the authority of the federal court system and the validity of desegregation. The crisis at Little Rock’s Central High School forced the nation to resolve to enforce African-American civil rights in the face of massive southern defiance during the years following the Brown decision.