Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates



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Daisy Lee Gatson was born in Huttig, Arkansas, in 1912. When Daisy was eight her mother was killed during an attempt by three white men to rape her.

At the age of fifteen Daisy met L. C. Bates. The couple eventually got married and began publishing Arkansas State Press. The newspaper played an important role in the civil rights movement and attacked segregation in Arkansas.

Daisy Bates was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and in 1952 was elected president of the chapter in Arkansas.

After the Supreme Court announced in 1954 that separate schools were not equal and ruled that they were therefore unconstitutional. Some states accepted the ruling and began to desegregate. This was especially true of states that had small black populations and had found the provision of separate schools extremely expensive.

However, several states in the Deep South, including Arkansas, refused to accept the judgment of the Supreme Court. Bates now started to campaign for desegregated schools and in 1957 was a key figure in the campaign to get black students accepted by Central High School in Little Rock.

Bates involvement in the civil rights movement resulted in a large slump in the advertising revenue of the Arkansas State Press and it closed in 1959. Her book, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, was published in 1962. Bates was the only woman who spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Bates to help administer his anti-poverty programs. She also worked in Washington for the Democratic National Committee. In 1968 Bates was appointed director of the Mitchellville OEO Self-Help Project.

Daisy Bates died in 1999.

Faubus' alleged reason for calling out the troops was that he had received information that caravans of automobiles filled with white supremacists were heading toward Little Rock from all over the state. He therefore declared Central High School off limits to Negroes. For some inexplicable reason he added that Horace Mann, a Negro high school, would be off limits to whites.

Then, from the chair of the highest office of the State of Arkansas, Governor Orval Eugene Faubus delivered the infamous words, "blood will run in the streets" if Negro pupils should attempt to enter Central High School.

In a half dozen ill-chosen words, Faubus made his contribution to the mass hysteria that was to grip the city of Little Rock for several months.

The citizens of Little Rock gathered on September 3 to gaze upon the incredible spectacle of an empty school building surrounded by 250 National Guard troops. At about eight fifteen in the morning, Central students started passing through the line of national guardsmen - all but the nine Negro students.

I had been in touch with their parents throughout the day. They were confused, and they were frightened. As the parents

voiced their fears, they kept repeating Governor Faubus' words that "blood would run in the streets of Little Rock" should their teenage children try to attend Central - the school to which they had been assigned by the school board.

Daisy Bates, a civil rights leader who in 1957 led the fight to admit nine black students to Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., died yesterday at a hospital there. She was 84.

In the integration struggle, rocks were thrown through her window, a burning cross was placed on her roof and the newspaper published by her and her husband, L C. Bates, was ultimately destroyed financially. But she nurtured the nine black children who faced vicious insults and physical intimidation. She encouraged them to be courageous, while striving to guard them against howling white mobs.

The result was one of the early major victories in the civil rights movement. The desegregation of Central High School with the aid of federal troops signaled that Washington would enforce the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which declared school segregation unconstitutional.

Mrs. Bates, as Arkansas president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a central figure in the litigation that led to the confrontation in front of Central High, as well as the snarling scenes that unfolded in front of it.

The success of the Little Rock campaign, she later said, "had a lot to do with removing fear that people have for getting involved."


Daisy Bates 1914(?) –

Daisy Bates is best known for her involvement in the struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. As an advisor to nine black students trying to attend a previously all-white school, she was a pivotal figure in that seminal moment of the civil rights movement. As a publisher and journalist, she was also a witness and advocate on a larger scale. Her memoir of the conflict, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, is a primary text in the history of American race relations. Bates endured numerous hardships, but in the ensuing years her unstinting labors on behalf of equality opportunity have earned her numerous laurels.

She was born Daisy Lee Gatson in Huttig, a tiny Arkansas town dominated by a sawmill. “ Huttig might have been called a sawmill plantation, ” she maintained in her book, “ for everyone worked for the mill, lived in houses owned by the mill, and traded at the general store run by the mill. ” Growing up there, “ I knew I was a Negro, but I did not really understand what that meant until I was seven years old. ” At that time, she went to buy some meat for her mother at a store and was rudely snubbed by the butcher. “ Niggers have to wait ‘ til I wait on the white people, ” he brusquely informed her.

The incident had a strong impact on young Daisy, but her rage at discrimination turned to horror when she learned, somewhat later, that the parents she had known all her life were in reality friends of her real parents her mother, it turned out, had been murdered while resisting rape by three white men. The men were never brought to justice, and Daisy ’ s real father left town. “ Young as I was, strange as it may seem, ” she wrote, “ my life now had a secret goal — to find the men who had done this horrible thing to my mother. So happy once, now I was like a little sapling which, after a violent storm, puts out only gnarled and twisted branches. ”

At the age of 15, Daisy became the object of an older man ’ s attentions. L. C. Bates, an insurance salesman who had also worked on newspapers in the South and West. L. C. wooed her for several years, and they married in 1942, setting up housekeeping in Little Rock. Though the low pay and lack of job security had been a constant for him as a journalist, he longed to leave the insurance business and run his own newspaper. The Bateses decided to act on this dream, leasing a printing plant that belonged to a church publication


Daisy Bates’ Letter about "Little Rock Nine," December 17, 1957

Daisy Bates, civil rights activist, journalist and lecturer, wrote a letter on December 17, 1957, to then-NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins. The letter focused on the treatment of the nine African-American children, known as the "Little Rock Nine" at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. These students were the first to be enrolled at the school after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to segregate public schools. She describes how the treatment of the children by peers, educators and protestors was getting steadily worse, and they have endured a number of abuses, such as being spit on, kicked and heckled.


Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (1914-1999)

Newspaper publisher and civil rights activist Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was influential in the integration of the Little Rock Nine into Little Rock, Arkansas’s Central High School in 1957. She was born Daisy Lee Gatson on November 11, 1914, in Huttih, Arkansas. Her mother, Millie Riley, was killed by three white men when she was an infant. Out of fear, her father, John Gatson, fled town and left his daughter in the care of friends Orlee and Susie Smith. Daisy Gatson attended the local segregated schools in her youth.

In 1928, when she was fifteen, she met Lucius Christopher Bates, a traveling salesman based in Memphis, Tennessee. Together they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1941 and were married on March 4, 1942. The couple established The Arkansas State Press, a weekly state-wide newspaper which advocated civil rights for black Arkansans. Bates also joined the Little Rock National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch and was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of Branches in 1952. She remained active and a member of the National NAACP Board for the next twenty years.

Bates and her husband chronicled the 1954 Brown v Board of Education case which led to the lower court decision to integrate Little Rock Central High School. Her home, not far from Central High, became the organizing and strategy center for nine African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, selected to desegregate the school in 1957. Bates walked into the schools daily with the children for an entire school year (1957-58). She received numerous death threats and she and her husband were forced to close the Arkansas State Press.

She was named Woman of the Year by the National Council of Negro Women in 1957. Along with the Little Rock Nine, Bates received the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest award, in 1958. Bates later wrote about her struggles in a memoir entitled The Long Shadow of Little Rock, published in 1962. The introduction was written by former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

During the year-long struggle in Little Rock, Bates also became the friend of Dr. Martin Luther King. He invited her to be the Women’s Day speaker at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1958. She was subsequently elected to the executive committee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Bates spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

In 1964, Bates moved to Washington D.C., to work for the Democratic National Committee She also served briefly in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, working on anti-poverty programs. After suffering a stroke in 1965, she returned to Little Rock, Arkansas, but in 1968 she and her husband moved to the small African American community of Mitchellville in Desha County. Bates she established and became director of the Mitchellville Office of Equal Opportunity Self Help, a program responsible for a water and new sewer systems, a community center and paved streets.

Bates returned to Little Rock after the death of her husband in 1980 and revived the Arkansas State Press. In 1984, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and named an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. The university press republished her memoir in 1986, and it became the first reprinted edition to receive an American Book Award. In 1987, she sold newspaper but continued to act as a consultant for several years. Also in 1987, the Daisy Bates Elementary School was dedicated in Little Rock, and the state named the third Monday in February George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day. Bates carried the torch for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates died of a heart attack in Little Rock on November 4, 1999. She was the first African American to rest “In State” in the Arkansas State Capitol Building. The Congressional Gold Medal was posthumously awarded to her by President Bill Clinton, and a documentary entitled “Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” aired on PBS in February of 2012.


Arkansas Women in History – Louise Thaden & Daisy Bates

March is Women’s History Month and Arkansas has its share of amazing women who have influenced both our state’s history and the nation – Louise Thaden and Daisy Bates.

Louise Thaden

If you mention airplanes and women, most people immediately jump to Amelia Earhart as the most famous female pilot in aviation. However, Bentonville’s own Louise McPhetridge Thaden was just as well-known an aviator as Earhart, accomplishing many feats Earhart didn’t.

Louise was born in Bentonville in 1905. She grew up on a farm, attended the University of Arkansas, and started working for a coal company. When she was offered a job by Travel Air Corporation, Louise jumped at the chance and moved to San Francisco, where free pilot lessons were included as a benefit of her employment. She earned her pilot’s license in 1928, number 850, signed by Orville Wright.

For the next 10 years, Louise won a series of races and awards. She set records in women’s altitude, solo endurance and speed. She won the Women’s Air Derby, a transcontinental race, in 1929, beating out 19 other women, including Amelia Earhart.

Women were barred from air races for the next six years. But in 1936, Louise teamed up with fellow female pilot Blanche Noyes to compete for the Bendix Trophy, one of several cross-country air races popular at the time. Thaden and Noyes won, beating many male pilots.

Throughout her aviation career and her lifetime, Louise wrote articles on aviation. She published an autobiography shortly after she officially retired from racing in 1938. The book, High, Wide and Frightened, is available from the University of Arkansas Press.

Louise supported women in aviation by serving as treasurer and vice president of the Ninety-Nine, an organization for women in aviation. She also served as the National Secretary of the National Aeronautics Association. Before her death in 1979, she saw the Bentonville Airport renamed Louise Thaden Field. She was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1980. The Arkansas Air and Military museum in Fayetteville maintains an exhibit dedicated to Louise Thaden’s amazing accomplishments.

Daisy Bates

The civil rights movement and the desegregation of schools had a huge impact on Arkansas, and Daisy Bates was the woman in the middle of a time of upheaval and uncertainty.

Born Daisy Gatson in 1914, Daisy battled adversity early in life. Her mother was murdered and her father soon left Daisy in the care of family friends. She married L. C. Bates in 1941 and her career as a civil rights leader began. The Bateses created the newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, that same year. They devoted their weekly paper to civil rights around Arkansas, especially Little Rock. Each Thursday, the paper featured black Arkansans around the state. The State Press became the largest African-American paper in Arkansas, distributing copies to Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, Jonesboro, Helena, Forrest City and throughout Little Rock.

The desegregation of schools became the catapult to launch Daisy Bates into the national spotlight. With the Brown v. Board of Education decision to end segregation in schools across the United States, the State Press called for an immediate end to desegregation in Little Rock. Both Bates and her husband were active in the NAACP. She became president of the Arkansas Conference of Branches in 1952. When the first nine African-American students enrolled at Little Rock Central High School in 1957, Daisy was their leader, mentor and spokesperson.

The nine students met at her house before and after school. Bates advised the students at these meetings and continued to advocate for civil rights, especially in education. The home received police protection, but the Bateses didn’t escape threats and violence as rocks, and sometimes bullets, came through the windows and crosses were burned at the site twice.

In 1960, after the tumultuous events of desegregation, Daisy Bates moved to New York and wrote a memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock. She served in Lyndon Johnson’s administration as well, focusing on poverty, before moving back to Arkansas in 1968. Despite suffering a stroke, she continued to persevere for the rights of African-Americans in Arkansas. Her memoir was republished and in 1988 it won an American Book Award.

The effects of Daisy Bates’ life can be seen around Little Rock and Arkansas today, from a street and elementary school named after her, to the legacy she left behind in the battle for the integration of Arkansas schools.

You can find Daisy Bates’ memoir from the University of Arkansas Press. Her house in Little Rock is now a National Historic Landmark.

Both Daisy Bates and Louise Thaden were pioneers in the state and we celebrate them as women in Arkansas history.


Profiles in perseverance

Every Black History Month, we tend to celebrate the same cast of historic figures. They are the civil rights leaders and abolitionists whose faces we see plastered on calendars and postage stamps. They resurface each February when the nation commemorates African Americans who have transformed America.

They deserve all their accolades. But this month we are focusing instead on 28 seminal Black figures – one for each day of February – who don’t often make the history books.

Each transformed America in a profound way. Many don’t fit the conventional definition of a hero. Some were foul-tempered, weighed down by personal demons, and misunderstood by their contemporaries.

One was a mystic, another was a spy who posed as a slave, and another was a brilliant but troubled poet dubbed the “Godfather of Rap.” Few were household names. All of them were pioneers.

It’s time for these American heroes to get their due.

February 20

Daisy Gatson Bates

She helped the Little Rock Nine integrate a high school

When the Little Rock Nine walked into Central High School in 1957, the entire country was watching.

Many saw a mob of jeering White students surrounding a lone Black girl whose eyes were shielded by sunglasses. A photo of that moment became one of the most iconic images of the civil rights movement.

What Americans didn’t see, though, was the woman who organized those Black students: Daisy Gatson Bates.

Then president of the Arkansas NAACP, Bates planned the strategy for desegregation in the state. She selected the nine students, driving them to the school and protecting them from crowds.

After President Eisenhower intervened, the students were allowed to enroll – a major victory for desegregation efforts across the South. And that’s only part of Bates’ legacy.

She was born in a tiny town in southern Arkansas. Her childhood was marred by tragedy when her mother was sexually assaulted and killed by three White men. Her father later abandoned her, leaving young Daisy to be raised by family friends.

As an adult, Bates moved with her husband to Little Rock, where they founded their own newspaper, The Arkansas State Press, which covered the civil rights movement. She eventually helped plan the NAACP’s strategy for desegregating schools, leading to her involvement with the Little Rock Nine.

In the 1960s, Bates moved to Washington D.C., where she worked for the Democratic National Committee and for anti-poverty projects in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. Her memory lives on with Daisy Gatson Bates Day, a state holiday celebrated in Arkansas each February.

—Leah Asmelash, CNN Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Fritz Pollard

He was the first Black coach in the NFL

The son of a boxer, Fritz Pollard had grit in his veins.

At 5 feet, 9 inches and 165 pounds, he was small for football. But that didn’t stop him from bulldozing barriers on and off the field.

Pollard attended Brown University, where he majored in chemistry and played halfback on the football team. He was the school’s first Black player and led Brown to the 1916 Rose Bowl, although porters refused to serve him on the team’s train trip to California.

After serving in the Army during World War I, he joined the Akron Pros of the American Professional Football Association, which later became the NFL. He was one of only two Black players in the new league.

Fans taunted him with racial slurs, and opposing players tried to maim him. But Pollard, a swift and elusive runner, often had the last laugh.

“I didn’t get mad at them and want to fight them,” he once said. “I would just look at them and grin, and in the next minute run for an 80-yard touchdown.”

In 1921, while he was still a player, the team also named him its coach – the first African American head coach in league history.

Over the next seven years, Pollard coached four different teams and founded a Chicago football team of all-African American players. Later, he launched a newspaper and ran a successful investment firm. Pollard was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

—Amir Vera, CNN Photo: Pro Football Hall Of Fame/NFL/AP

Gil Scott-Heron

He said ‘the Revolution Will Not Be Televised’

Gil Scott-Heron was a New York City poet, activist, musician, social critic and spoken-word performer whose songs in the ‘70s helped lay the foundation for rap music.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably come across one of his poetic turns of phrase.

Some have called Scott-Heron the “godfather of rap,” though he was always reluctant to embrace that title. Still, the imprint he left on the genre – and music, more broadly – is unmistakable.

His work has been sampled, referenced or reinterpreted by Common, Drake, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Jamie xx, LCD Soundsystem and Public Enemy, just to name a few.

A darling of the cultural left wing, Scott-Heron never achieved mainstream popularity. But years after his death, his social and political commentary still figures in pop culture and protest movements around the world.

His 1970 spoken-word piece “Whitey on the Moon,” in which he criticized US government for making massive investments in the space race while neglecting its African American citizens, was featured in the 2018 film “First Man” and in HBO’s recent series “Lovecraft Country.”

But he’s perhaps best known for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a poem about the disconnect between TV consumerism and demonstrations in the streets. The slogan continues to inspire social justice activists today.

—Harmeet Kaur, CNN Photo: Ian Dickson / Shutterstock

Marsha P. Johnson

She fought for gay and transgender rights

The late Marsha P. Johnson is celebrated today as a veteran of the Stonewall Inn protests, a pioneering transgender activist and a pivotal figure in the gay liberation movement. Monuments to her life are planned in New York City and her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

During her lifetime, though, she wasn’t always treated with the same dignity.

When police raided the New York gay bar known as the Stonewall Inn in 1969, Johnson was said to be among the first to resist them. The next year, she marched in the city’s first Gay Pride demonstration.

But Johnson still struggled for full acceptance in the wider gay community, which often excluded transgender people.

The term “transgender” wasn’t widely used then, and Johnson referred to herself as gay, a transvestite and a drag queen. She sported flowers in her hair, and told people the P in her name stood for “Pay It No Mind” – a retort she leveled against questions about her gender.

Her activism made her a minor celebrity among the artists and outcasts of Lower Manhattan. Andy Warhol took Polaroids of her for a series he did on drag queens.

Frequently homeless herself, Johnson and fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera opened a shelter for LGBTQ youth. She also was outspoken in advocating for sex workers and people with HIV/AIDS.

In 1992, Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. Police initially ruled her death a suicide but later agreed to reopen the case. It remains open to this day.

—Harmeet Kaur, CNN Photo: Diana Davies-NYPL/Reuters

Jane Bolin

The first Black woman judge in the US

Jane Bolin made history over and over.

She was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School. The first Black woman to join the New York City Bar Association. The nation’s first Black female judge.

The daughter of an influential lawyer, Bolin grew up admiring her father’s leather-bound books while recoiling at photos of lynchings in the NAACP magazine.

Wanting a career in social justice, she graduated from Wellesley and Yale Law School and went into private practice in New York City.

In 1939, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed her a family court judge. As the first Black female judge in the country, she made national headlines.

For the compassionate Bolin, the job was a good fit. She didn’t wear judicial robes in court to make children feel more at ease and committed herself to seeking equal treatment for all who appeared before her, regardless of their economic or ethnic background.

In an interview after becoming a judge, Bolin said she hoped to show “a broad sympathy for human suffering.”

She served on the bench for 40 years. Before her death at age 98, she looked back at her lifetime of shattering glass ceilings.

“Everyone else makes a fuss about it, but I didn’t think about it, and I still don’t,” she said in 1993. “I wasn’t concerned about (being) first, second or last. My work was my primary concern.”

—Faith Karimi, CNN Photo: Bill Wallace/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Frederick McKinley Jones

He pioneered the modern refrigeration system

Frederick McKinley Jones was orphaned by age 8 and raised by a Catholic priest before he dropped out of high school.

That didn’t stop him from pursuing his calling as an inventor whose work changed the world.

A curious youth with a passion for tinkering with machines and mechanical devices, he worked as an auto mechanic and taught himself electronics. After serving in World War I, he returned to his Minnesota town and built a transmitter for its new radio station.

This caught the attention of a businessman, Joseph Numero, who offered Jones a job developing sound equipment for the fledgling movie industry.

On a hot summer night in 1937, Jones was driving when an idea struck him: What if he could invent a portable cooling system that would allow trucks to better transport perishable food?

In 1940, he patented a refrigeration system for vehicles, a concept that suddenly opened a global market for fresh produce and changed the definition of seasonal foods. He and Numero parlayed his invention into a successful company, Thermo King, which is still thriving today.

It also helped open new frontiers in medicine because hospitals could get shipments of blood and vaccines.

Before his death, Jones earned more than 60 patents, including one for a portable X-ray machine. In 1991, long after his death, he became the first African American to receive the National Medal of Technology.

—Faith Karimi, CNN Photo: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Max Robinson

The first Black anchor of a network newscast

A trailblazer in broadcasting and journalism, Max Robinson in 1978 became the first Black person to anchor the nightly network news.

But his road to the anchor’s chair wasn’t easy.

Robinson got his start in 1959 when he was hired to read the news at a station in Portsmouth, Virginia. His face was hidden behind a graphic that read, “NEWS.” One day he told the cameraman to remove the slide.

“I thought it would be good for all my folks and friends to see me rather than this dumb news sign up there,” Robinson once told an interviewer. He was fired the next day.

Robinson’s profile began to rise after he moved to Washington, where he worked as a TV reporter and later co-anchored the evening news at the city’s most popular station – the first Black anchor in a major US city.

He drew raves for his smooth delivery and rapport with the camera. ABC News noticed, moved him to Chicago and named him one of three co-anchors on “World News Tonight,” which also featured Frank Reynolds in Washington and Peter Jennings in London.

Later in his career, Robinson became increasingly outspoken about racism and the portrayal of African Americans in the media. He also sought to mentor young Black broadcasters and was one of the 44 founders of the National Association of Black Journalists.

—Amir Vera, CNN Photo: ABC/Getty Images

Bessie Coleman

The first Black woman to become a pilot

Born to sharecroppers in a small Texas town, Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman became interested in flying while living in Chicago, where stories about the exploits of World War I pilots piqued her interest.

But flight schools in the US wouldn’t let her in because of her race and gender.

Undeterred, Coleman learned French, moved to Paris and enrolled in a prestigious aviation school, where in 1921 she became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license.

Back in the US, Coleman began performing on the barnstorming circuit, earning cheers for her daring loops, acrobatic figure-eights and other aerial stunts. Fans called her “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie.”

Coleman dreamed of opening a flight school for African Americans, but her vision never got a chance to take off.

On April 30, 1926, she was practicing for a May Day celebration in Jacksonville, Florida, when her plane, piloted by her mechanic, flipped during a dive. Coleman wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and plunged to her death. She was only 34.

But her brief career inspired other Black pilots to earn their wings, and in 1995 the Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.

—Leah Asmelash, CNN Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Fannie Lou Hamer

She riveted viewers at the DNC

Most of the civil rights movement’s leaders were Black male preachers with impressive degrees and big churches. Fannie Lou Hamer was a poor, uneducated Black woman who showed that a person didn’t need fancy credentials to inspire others.

She was so charismatic that even the President of the United States took notice.

Hamer was the youngest of 20 children born to a sharecropping family in Mississippi. She had a powerful speaking and gospel singing voice, and when activists launched voter registration drives in the mid-1960s, they recruited her to help out.

She paid a price for her activism. Hamer was fired from her job for attempting to register to vote. She was beaten, arrested and subjected to constant death threats.

Yet seasoned civil rights workers were impressed with her courage. Hamer even co-founded a new political party in Mississippi as part of her work to desegregate the state’s Democratic Party.

Hamer spoke at the 1964 Democratic Convention about the brutal conditions Blacks faced while trying to vote in Mississippi. Her televised testimony was so riveting that President Lyndon B. Johnson forced the networks to break away by calling a last-minute press conference. Johnson was afraid Hamer’s eloquence would alienate Southern Democrats who supported segregation.

“I guess if I’d had any sense, I’da been a little scared,” Hamer said later about that night.

“But what was the point of being scared?” she added. “The only thing the whites could do was kill me, and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

—Alaa Elassar, CNN Photo: William J. Smith / Associated Press

Paul Robeson

One of Broadway’s most acclaimed Othellos

Paul Robeson was a true Renaissance man – an athlete, actor, author, lawyer, singer and activist whose talent was undeniable and whose outspokenness almost killed his career.

An All-American football star at Rutgers University, where he was class valedictorian, Robeson earned a law degree at Columbia and worked for a New York City law firm until he quit in protest over its racism.

In the 1920s, he turned to the theater, where his commanding presence landed him lead roles in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” and “The Emperor Jones.” He later sang “Ol’ Man River,” which became his signature tune, in stage and film productions of “Show Boat.”

Robeson performed songs in at least 25 different languages and became one of the most famous concert singers of his time, developing a large following in Europe.

He was perhaps best known for performing the title role in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” which he reprised several times. One production in 1943-44, co-starring Uta Hagen and Jose Ferrer, became the longest-running Shakespeare play in Broadway history.

Robeson also became a controversial figure for using his celebrity to advance human rights causes around the world. His push for social justice clashed with the repressive climate of the 1950s, and he was blacklisted. He stopped performing, his passport was revoked and his songs disappeared from the radio for years.

“The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery,” Robeson once said. “I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

—Alaa Elassar, CNN Photo: Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Constance Baker Motley

The first Black woman to argue before the Supreme Court

Constance Baker Motley graduated from her Connecticut high school with honors, but her parents, immigrants from the Caribbean, couldn’t afford to pay for college. So Motley, a youth activist who spoke at community events, made her own good fortune.

A philanthropist heard one of her speeches and was so impressed he paid for her to attend NYU and Columbia Law School. And a brilliant legal career was born.

Motley became the lead trial attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and began arguing desegregation and fair housing cases across the country. The person at the NAACP who hired her? Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Motley wrote the legal brief for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, which struck down racial segregation in American public schools. Soon she herself was arguing before the Supreme Court – the first Black woman to do so.

Over the years she successfully represented Martin Luther King Jr., Freedom Riders, lunch-counter protesters and the Birmingham Children Marchers. She won nine of the 10 cases that she argued before the high court.

“I rejected any notion that my race or sex would bar my success in life,” Motley wrote in her memoir, “Equal Justice Under Law.”

After leaving the NAACP, Motley continued her trailblazing path, becoming the first Black woman to serve in the New York state Senate and later the first Black woman federal judge. Vice President Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, has cited her as an inspiration.

—Nicole Chavez, CNN Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Charles Richard Drew

The father of the blood bank

Anyone who has ever had a blood transfusion owes a debt to Charles Richard Drew, whose immense contributions to the medical field made him one of the most important scientists of the 20th century.

Drew helped develop America’s first large-scale blood banking program in the 1940s, earning him accolades as “the father of the blood bank.”

Drew won a sports scholarship for football and track and field at Amherst College, where a biology professor piqued his interest in medicine. At the time, racial segregation limited the options for medical training for African Americans, leading Drew to attend med school at McGill University in Montréal.

He then became the first Black student to earn a medical doctorate from Columbia University, where his interest in the science of blood transfusions led to groundbreaking work separating plasma from blood. This made it possible to store blood for a week – a huge breakthrough for doctors treating wounded soldiers in World War II.

In 1940, Drew led an effort to transport desperately needed blood and plasma to Great Britain, then under attack by Germany. The program saved countless lives and became a model for a Red Cross pilot program to mass-produce dried plasma.

Ironically, the Red Cross at first excluded Black people from donating blood, making Drew ineligible to participate. That policy was later changed, but the Red Cross segregated blood donations by race, which Drew criticized as “unscientific and insulting.”

Drew also pioneered the bloodmobile — a refrigerated truck that collected, stored and transported blood donations to where they were needed.

After the war he taught medicine at Howard University and its hospital, where he fought to break down racial barriers for Black physicians.

—Sydney Walton, CNN Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images


Central High School Crisis: A Timeline

The following events occurred in 1957, three years after the decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Aug. 27: The Mother's League of Central High School, a group of women from Broadmoor Baptist Church with ties to a segregationist group, has its first public meeting. After discussing "inter-racial marriages and resulting diseases which might arise," they decide to petition the governor to prevent integration. Lawyer Amis Guthridge draws up the document and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus supports it. Mrs. Clyde Thompson, recording secretary of the Mother's League of Little Rock Central High School, files a motion seeking a temporary injunction against school integration. Her suit also asks for clarification on the "segregation" laws.

Aug. 29: Pulaski County Chancellor Murray Reed grants the injunction, on the grounds that integration could lead to violence.

Aug. 30: Federal District Judge Ronald Davies orders the Little Rock School Board to proceed with its plan of gradual integration and the opening of the school on Sept. 3, and nullifies Reed's injunction.

Sept. 2: (Labor Day) Gov. Faubus orders the Arkansas National Guard to prohibit nine black students from entering Central High School. In a televised speech, he states that he did so to prevent violence. Afterward, the school board orders the nine black students who had registered at Central not to attempt to attend school.

Sept. 3: Judge Ronald Davies orders desegregation to start Sept. 4, while Gov. Faubus orders the National Guard to remain at Central.

Sept. 4: Nine black students attempt to enter Central High School, but are turned away by the National Guard. One of the nine, Elizabeth Eckford, does not have a telephone and so was not notified ahead of time of the change in plans. She arrives alone at the school to face the Guardsmen alone. She is able to reach a bus stop bench and Mrs. Grace Lorch, a white woman, stays with her and boards the bus with her to help take her to her mother's school.

Sept. 5: None of "the nine" try to attend school. The school board asks Judge Davies to temporarily suspend its integration plan.

Sept. 7: Federal Judge Davies denies the school board's request.

Sept. 8: Gov. Faubus goes on national television to re-affirm his stand and insists that the federal government halt its demand for integration. When confronted to produce evidence of reported violence, Faubus refuses.

Sept. 9: Judge Davies begins injunction proceedings against Gov. Faubus and two National Guardsmen for interfering with integration.

Sept. 10: Judge Davies tells the United States Justice Department to begin injunction proceedings against Faubus. He schedules a hearing for Sept. 20 for a preliminary injunction.

Sept. 14: Gov. Faubus meets with President Eisenhower in Newport, R.I., to discuss issues of the prevention of violence and the desegregation of Arkansas' public schools. "I have assured the president of my desire to cooperate with him in carrying out the duties resting upon both of us under the Federal Constitution," Faubus says in a statement. "In addition, I must harmonize my actions under the Constitution of Arkansas with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States."

Sept. 20: Judge Davies rules Faubus has not used the troops to preserve law and order and orders them removed, unless they protect the nine black students as they enter the school. Faubus removes the Guardsmen and the Little Rock police move in.

Sept. 23: An angry mob of more than 1,000 white people curses and fights in front of Central High School, while the nine black children are escorted inside. A number of white students, including Sammie Dean Parker, jump out of windows to avoid contact with the black students. Parker is arrested and taken away. The Little Rock police cannot control the mob and, fearing for their safety, remove the nine children from the school. Three black journalists covering the story are first harassed and then physically attacked and chased by a mob. They finally run to safety in a black section of town. President Eisenhower calls the rioting "disgraceful" and orders federal troops into Little Rock.

Sept. 24: Members of the 101st Airborne Division, the "Screaming Eagles" of Fort Campbell, Ky., roll into Little Rock. The Arkansas National Guard is placed under federal orders.

Sept. 25: Under troop escort, the nine black children are escorted back into Central High School. Gen. Edwin Walker, U.S. Army, addresses the white students in the school's auditorium before the nine students arrive.

Oct. 1: The 101st Airborne turns over most duties to the federalized Arkansas National Guard. Discipline problems resurface at Central for the remainder of the school year.


Daisy Bates married insurance salesman and journalist Lucius Christopher Bates in 1941, and the couple moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Her husband launched a newspaper in 1941, and 1942 Bates began working for the paper as a reporter. The publication, the Arkansas State Press, was a weekly pro-civil rights newspaper which reported on the plight of black residents in the state including issues such as police brutality, social problems, and segregated education.

In 1953 Daisy Bates as elected as president of the Arkansas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her husband was the regional director of the organization. The U.S. Supreme Court&rsquos 1954 ruling which declared racial segregation unconstitutional resulted in the Little Rock&rsquos school board attempt to slow integration of the public school system. Bates and her husband were both involved in protesting against this policy and demanded immediate integration. With their activism and involvement, Bates and her husband, L.C. Bates, helped end racial segregation in Arkansas.

Bates rose to prominence when she started talking African American children to the white public schools, with the media reporting the refusal of the schools to admit the children. In 1957 the Arkansas School Board issued a statement saying that desegregation would commence at Central High School, Little Rock. Bates accompanied nine pupils when they went to enroll at the school, despite white opposition and threats of violence. Around this time she had bricks with threatening messages thrown through her window. After some attempts to enroll the nine pupils, on the 25 September 1957, the president sent in the Arkansas National Guard and paratroopers to commence the integration of the school. Bates was then able to escort the pupil's safety to education.

In 1959, the Arkansas State Press was closed down. Bates then relocated to Washington D.C. where she worked for the Democratic National Committee. She was also involved in social programmes, particularly initiatives to combat poverty.
During 1965 Daisy Bates had a stroke and returned home to Arkansas where she continued her community work. Her husband died in 1980 and 1984 she re-started the Arkansas State Press and kept it running for a few years before selling it.


Sacrifice & Determination: Lessons from Daisy Bates

We reflect on how Bates played a pivotal role in the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the Civil Rights movement.

In September 1957, a group of nine black students left for their first day of school in Little Rock, Arkansas. As they made their way to Central High School, a crowd of angry white students followed behind them shouting, &aposTwo, four, six, eight, we don&apost want to integrate!&apos. When the black students finally reached the doors of the school, they were blocked by armed men of the Arkansas National Guard. But none of this discouraged them. Because they knew the importance of their mission and the strength and determination of the woman that led them there. 

The Roots of Activism

Daisy Lee Gatson was born on November 11, 1914, in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas. When she was just three years old, her mother was attacked and murdered by three white men. Her father left, so Daisy went to live with a foster family. At the age of fifteen, she met a man named Lucious Christopher Bates, affectionately known as "L.C.". He was a journalist and nearly ten years her senior. 

Following the death of her foster father, Daisy moved to Memphis, Tennessee to live with Bates.਍r. Misti Nicole Harper, a Visiting Assistant Professor at theꃞpartment of Historyਊt Gustavus Adolphus College, said this move was pivotal in Daisy&aposs journey. "She&aposs gone from a horribly violent little backwards town to Memphis where there is a degree of autonomy for a black country girl, that she&aposs never experienced before," Harper said. "And I argue that this is so profoundly important for her. That it&aposs Memphis where young Daisy Gatson becomes a more politically savvy, more engaged person with a real interest in grassroots activism."

Daisy and L.C. married in the early 1940&aposs and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where they started their own newspaper,The Arkansas State Press. It was one of the few African American newspapers that championed the civil rights movement. As the seeds of her activism grew, Bates was selected as the President of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She soon became a central figure in the fight against the Jim Crow laws that kept whites and blacks separated in so many elements of daily life – including schools. 

A Turning Point

In 1954, the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional in its landmark case known as Brown v. Board of Education. However, even after the historic ruling, black students were still being turned away from white schools. Bates and her husband used their newspaper to publicize the ongoing battle and efforts surrounding the issue. 

Three years later, with the resistance to school integration still persisting, Bates took a bold step. She and other members of the NAACP recruited a group of black students who would become known as the Little Rock Nine. After intense vetting and counseling, Bates determined the nine high schoolers were ready to face the anger and hostility surrounding them. It would take weeks of harassment and rejection for Bates and the Little Rock Nine to finally catch the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He sent federal troops to help enforce the law and protect the nine students from their opposers. On September 25th, 1957, the Little Rock Nine successfully entered the doors and attended their first day of school at the all-white Central High School. 

Lessons Learned

Bates&apos push for racial integration in Little Rock made her the target of many threats and violence. But despite the many hurdles, Bates kept going. Harper said her tenacity was undeniable. "I have a hard time thinking that anybody except Daisy could have risen to that challenge because it was so dangerous, it required so much effort, it required so much just plain old stubbornness," explained Harper.

WATCH: Must-See National Civil Rights Monuments in Birmingham, Alabama

After decades of tireless activism and hard work across so many civil rights issues, Daisy Gatson Bates died on November 4th, 1999. That same year, she was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom. Harper said Bates&apos life and legacy is one we can all learn from. "Daisy Bates sacrificed so much to make Arkansas and to make the country a more democratic, equitable place. She offers us a lesson in what it takes to maintain and protect democratic systems or to build them where they never existed in the first place," said Harper. "She shows us what is required to make sure that this country works for everyone. Daisy offers us a lesson, I think, basically in how to be an American."


Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock, Arkansas

“Well, I think I’ve been angry all my life about what has happened to my people. [Mrs. Bates refers here to the rape and murder of her mother by a group of white men] finding that out, and nobody did anything about it. I think it started back then. I was so tight inside. There was so much hate. And I think it started then without my knowing it. It prepared me, it gave me the strength to carry this out.” – Daisy Bates (1976 SOHP Interview, around 2 minutes)

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court decision declaring racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional occurred sixty five years ago, segregation is still an issue in the United States’ public school system today. Racial segregation has become deeply embedded within the economic infrastructure of communities and has resulted in great disparities between wealthy and poor students as well as white students and children of color. 4 Discrepancies between school systems can be observed all over the map, but especially in New York. In 2015, thousands of parents, teachers, and students rallied in Brooklyn and demanded an end to what they described as “separate and unequal education throughout the New York City school system”. Although The Brown v. Board of Education decision deemed racial segregation in schools as both illegal and evidence of history’s past struggles, it also stands as an effective tool that can be used to support the issue of segregation that continues to infiltrate the nation’s public school system today.

Daisy Bates entering NAACP office

Many interviews related to the history of school segregation are easily accessible through the Southern Oral History Program archive. Below, I highlight an interview conducted with Daisy Bates, a noted journalist and civil rights activist, as she shares her experience with civil rights activism and school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. This interview offers some insights into the intensity of civil rights organizing and the personal courage and drive necessary in civil rights workers who strive to make change happen.

Daisy Bates was an American civil rights activist, publisher, and journalist who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957. Bates was born on November 11th, 1914 in Huttig, Arkansas. As a child, Daisy was exposed to immense amounts of turmoil and tragedy when she was left by her father after her mother was raped and killed by a group of white men. In 1942, Daisy married LC Bates, the man who would stand by her side throughout periods of unmatched adversity. The Bates’ operated a weekly African-American newspaper called The Arkansas Press for seventeen years. The paper focused on civil rights and was had significant influence throughout The Little Rock movement.

Daisy Bates with four members of The Little Rock Nine in front of her home in Little Rock, Arkansas

Daisy became the president of the Arkansas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1952. This role was crucial in making her voice in the fight against segregation known and heard. In 1957, Daisy advised the nine students selected as the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock. On September 4th, 1957, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls all walked into Central High School. As they were yelled at and spit on, the US soldiers designated by President Einsenhower to protect the nine brave souls could only do so much as the white students, parents, and individuals from the surrounding community let it be known that they were not welcome. During The Little Rock Nine’s integration process, Daisy’s home served as a safe space for the students to return to at the end of their school days. She became a mentor, friend, and spokesperson for the students as well as a nationally recognized advocate for civil rights.

The SOHP Interview with Daisy Bates’ was conducted by Elizabeth Jacoway from Daisy’s home in Little Rock. In the course of the interview, Daisy discusses her personal biography, the desegregation process of Central High School, and the methods that white officials used to avoid desegregation in Little Rock. She also describes the retaliation that parts of the African American community exhibited in response to Daisy’s activism, specific struggles that certain members of The Little Rock Nine had to face once they started attending Central High School, and the societal changes that have occurred in Little Rock since the 1950’s.

If you’re interested in learning more about the life of Daisy Bates or the civil rights movements that took place throughout the 1950’s, here are some other resources to check out:


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