Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in
The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
It was among the most dramatic moments in the civil rights movement -- nine black students entering Little Rock's Central High School under military escort as a snarling mob jeered and threatened them. That first day was just the beginning of the students' turmoil. Throughout the year they were tormented by other students. "I got up every morning, polished my saddle shoes, and went off to war," one of the nine later recalled. Yet they all survived and prospered as adults. An excerpt from The Post of Sept. 26, 1957:
By Robert E. Lee Baker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Sept. 25 --
This city learned today how the United States can enforce a school desegregation order the hard way. It was a spectacular, unbelievable, and sad sight.
Nine Negro students were integrated in Central High School with the help of 350 crack paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, helicopters, bayonets, walkie-talkies, dispassionate muscle, and a tough Southern major.
At 5 a.m., in front of the school on Park ave., where 80 city policemen barely withheld a screaming mob on Monday, the battle-equipped soldiers took their stations.
It was an all-American group. Name patches on their chests read: Gomulka, Glenday, Duxbury, Shelton, Schultz, Reap, Raining Deer, Smith.
Advanced guards located at intersections a block from the school barred all persons, except pupils, teachers, and newsmen, from entering the school area and kept a nucleus of a mob from forming. Only pupils and teachers were allowed on the school grounds.
At Ponders Store, 16th and Park ave., just outside the troop line, a dozen boys and girls gathered. They were among the teen-agers who helped whip up the anger of the mob two days ago.
Maj. James Meyers, lean, lanky, and hard, from San Antonio, approached the group. He has been in the paratroopers for 14 years.
"Boys and girls, we cannot let you gather here. Please either enter the building, go to school, or go home."
There were smirks and no move toward obedience. For three weeks previously, the National Guard, under the orders of Gov. Orval E. Faubus, had barred the nine Negroes from the school but had not attempted to break up the crowds. Today was different.
The Major repeated the order without the "please." Still no movement. He turned to a squad of 16 paratroopers.
"All right, clear 'em out!"
The squad, shoulder to shoulder, and with bayonets raised, forced the youngsters to retreat down 16th St. One pretty, blond girl stopped long enough to curse the soldiers. ...
A woman, resident of a home facing the school, shook her head.
"For us Southerners," she said, "this is very harsh. But I guess it's the only Christian thing to do. We're all equal under the law." ...
At 9:20, the nine Negro pupils arrived in an army station wagon, flanked by two jeeps with armed soldiers. The caravan swept to the front of the school.
The troopers, bayonets ready, formed wedges facing the crowd. ... The reserve Pravo Company formed an escort and marched the children up the long flight of steps into the school.