Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fifty Four Years Later

[Little Rock Central High School - 1957]

In 1957 nine black students, the Little Rock Nine, sued the Little Rock school district for admission to Little Rock Central High School. They won and federal courts ordered the integration of the school. The school board refused to comply. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, backed the school board. He sent the Arkansas National Guard to block the entrance of the nine black high school students. They were met with a long line of uniformed soldiers.

President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered them to stand down. (Military jargon for "go home") He sent troops of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock in case they didn't.

The order of the court was enforced and the black kids integrated Little Rock Central. At the time the press (Which to me at the time was the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Television was still a rarity in Santa Rosa in 1957. We didn't have one.) reported the fight as one about race and racism in the South. All these many years later, the echoes of the Civil War in the Little Rock Crisis now ring loud.

What is now the National Guard used to be called the state militia. The Confederate army under Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jubilation T. Cornpone was not a real army so much as it was a congerie of state militias. During the Little Rock Crisis the Arkansas militia could well have come to blows with the U.S. Army. Which used to be called the Union Army.

Which is why President Eisenhower, who used to be called General Eisenhower, sent not just any troops but the 101st Airborne, the best troops. To make it clear that if Governor Faubus and the Arkansas militia resisted with force, that the federal government could and would crush them.

Just as the fight in 1861 had been about slaves and slavery, the fight in 1957 was about integration of their descendants, people then quaintly known as 'negroes'. In short Eisenhower did what Lincoln should have done, had he had the resources to do it, which was to apply overwhelming force immediately so as to prevent the conflict from growing and worsening. Ironically the principle of using overwhelming force right at the beginning of a conflict is the Powell Doctrine, named for Colin Powell the first black U.S. general.

What brings the Little Rock Crisis to mind is that I have just booked the Little Rock Central High School debate team to stay in my house for the debate tournament in Berkeley next month. I am curious to see who the kids are . I am hoping that we have come a long way, baby. So far I have heard from only one parent, one with a Persian name.



  1. A Google search found this:

  2. Anonymous6:51 AM

    Dear Jack:
    Nice blog; just wanted to mention that my name is not a Hindi name, it is an Iranian (or Persian) name. Little Rock Central is actually a very diverse environment now and we all love it...

  3. Thanks Steve. What Steve's link shows is that the debate team has primarily Indian, Chinese, and other foreign-sounding names.

    If one will forgive the vastness of the generalization, it is our good fortune to have immigrants who excel in the things we prize -- enterprise, studiousness, industriousness.

    As an early-stage baby boomer I can say with unalloyed self-interest that we need all the young people we can get to pay our pensions. Those of us born between 1945 and 1960 are all in the same leaky boat.