Little Rock Nine mark 50th anniversary
By PEGGY HARRIS and ANDREW DeMILLO, Associated Press Writers
1 hour, 49 minutes ago
The Little Rock Nine, once barred from Central High School because they are black, arrived on its soggy campus in limousines Tuesday as the community marked 50 years since President Eisenhower directed soldiers to escort the students inside.
"You can overcome adversity if you know you are doing the right thing," said Carlotta Walls Lanier, one of the nine.
About 4,500 people gathered on the front lawn of the inner-city campus, where the high school is now 52 percent black, to commemorate one of the key moments in the civil rights movement.
Former President Clinton held open the school's doors in a symbolic gesture.
"I am grateful we had a Supreme Court that saw 'separate but equal' and 'states rights' for the shams they were, hiding our desire to preserve the oppression of African-Americans, and I am grateful more than I can say that we had a president who was determined to enforce the order of the court," Clinton said.
The two-hour ceremony included brief remarks by each of the Little Rock Nine: Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey and Thelma Mothershed Wair.
"The thing I feared most in my life were white policemen. White policemen have guarded me these last few days. I've spoken to them. We've talked to each other," Beals said. "As I stepped out of my limousine, a white man who doesn't know me reached for the collar, the lapel, of my coat, and straightened it.
"It is the look in your eyes, the smile on your faces — white, black, green or blue — the determination in the eyes of those of color and the willingness to move ahead, that makes me know we're cool," she said.
Society has made progress, but Gov. Mike Beebe and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola noted that economic and educational inequalities still exist.
"We have the largest black middle-class in our history, but 35 percent of black children in the city live below the poverty line," said Stodola, who is white. "There is a pervasive feeling that we are two cities. We may be desegregated, but we have a way to go to be integrated."
In September 1957, then-Gov. Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to keep nine black children out of Central High, telling a statewide TV audience that court-ordered integration would spark mob violence. He didn't acknowledge that he helped manufacture the crisis to boost his segregationist credentials.
Outside the school Tuesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the civil rights struggle continues 50 years later in a social system that has "first-class jails and second-class schools."
"We were winning against all odds. Now we're begging youth to attend school," Jackson said.
Dale Charles, head of the state NAACP chapter, said the commemoration overstated the progress in race relations. He called it a commercial piece: "After today, the lights will go out and people will look at something else."
The U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated classrooms unconstitutional, ruling that many districts were operating education systems that were separate but not equal. By the fall of 1957, the Charleston and Fayetteville school districts had integrated peacefully, but agitators targeted Little Rock for trouble.
For three weeks, Little Rock became the focus of a showdown between Faubus and Eisenhower. Faubus pulled the Guard away, but a crowd gathered outside the school Sept. 23 to prevent it from complying with U.S. District Judge Ronald Davies' desegregation order.
Eisenhower that night authorized the use of federal troops to enforce Davies' order, and members of the 101st Airborne escorted the Little Rock Nine to classes on Sept. 25, 1957.
The White House issued a statement Tuesday honoring the Little Rock Nine for their courage. "We resolve to continue their work to make America a more perfect Union," the statement said.
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