Central High School and "The Little Rock Nine"
- Copy of the video Eyes on the Prize: Fighting Back, volume 2
- Colored pencils
NOTE: This session goes beyond the Curriculum Framework and is an option for extension of the desegregation topic and enrichment of student learning about it. The events at Central High School are important and interesting. Although not directly related to the Standards of Learning, the session contains a valuable lesson, if time permits.
- If you have not already done so, provide historical background on the two Supreme Court cases that are closely connected to the issue of school desegregation: Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. Students should be familiar with both cases and understand the impact of these court decisions on American society. One of the first test cases for school desegregation took place at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the fall of 1957.
- Have the students watch the video Eyes on the Prize: Fighting Back (1957–62). This segment of the video series concerns the desegregation of Central High School and the University of Mississippi.
- Review the historical background of the film: The Jim Crow system in the South had been officially in place since 1896 when the famous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision declared that separate but equal facilities were the law of the land. This precedent was overturned by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court decision. However, old ideas die hard. In 1957, nine African American students were chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their efforts to integrate the high school were met with resistance.
- List the important people in the film:
• Governor Orval Faubus — the governor of Arkansas
• L. C. Bates and Daisy Bates — heads of the local chapter of the NAACP
• Thurgood Marshall — lawyer for the NAACP and future Supreme Court Justice
• Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Melba Patillo, and Ernest Green — four of the nine • African American students who integrated Central High School
- Prompt and guide student thought by displaying these questions for students to consider while watching and respond to in writing after viewing:
• What was Governor Faubus’ purpose in using the National Guard troops at Central High School? What were the reactions to this decision?
• Describe President Eisenhower’s role during the crisis. Did he act decisively? Explain why you agree or disagree with his actions regarding Little Rock.
• Describe the students’ reactions as they were escorted into Central High School by federal troops for their “first day of school” in October 1957.
• How did the white students treat the “Little Rock Nine”? What evidence is there for changes in attitudes among the white students in the film?
• How did the “Little Rock Nine” respond to their white classmates? What resources or help did these nine students have to make it through the school year?
• What were your reactions to the film? What about this event made the biggest impact on you?
- Discuss with students their answers to these questions. After this discussion, direct students to create a historical marker commemorating the desegregation of Central High School. Review with students the characteristics of historical markers they have seen, reminding them that historical markers contain some general information about the event and a tribute to the individuals involved. Encourage students to be creative and to use color and pictures, if possible. Direct students to Little Rock Central High 40th Anniversary Web site at <http://www.centralhigh57.org/>. This site has a link to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that provides news accounts, pictures, and editorials from the time.