In September 1957, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division enforced a federal court order to integrate the all-white Central High School at Little Rock, Ark. Troops escorted nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, into the all-white high school.
One of those soldiers, Chuck Christman, took these pictures.
For three weeks in September 1957, Little Rock was the focus of a showdown over integration as Gov. Orval Faubus blocked the nine black students from enrolling at a high school with about 2,000 white students. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had declared segregated classrooms unconstitutional in 1954 -- and the Little Rock School Board had voted to integrate -- Faubus said he feared violence if the races mixed.
The showdown soon became a test for then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who sent members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division in to Little Rock to control the angry crowds. It was the first time in 80 years that federal troops had been sent to a former state of the Confederacy.
A federal judge ruled in 2007 that the 27,000-student district was unitary, or substantially integrated, and ordered the end of federal desegregation monitoring. The school now has a nearby museum for the Little Rock crisis, and statues of the nine brave students stand on the grounds of the state Capitol.
In 1957, the Little Rock Nine: Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey, and Thelma Mothershed Wair were determined to get a good education.
When Gov. Orval Faubus pulled Arkansas National Guard members from blocking the nine students from entering the school, an inflamed crowd gathered to keep the black students out. Relman Morin, an Associated Press reporter standing outside the school at the time, described the chaos as a "human explosion" when the nine students were slipped inside during a melee. Eisenhower was shocked at the outbreak of violence.
Even with the military escorts, however, the harassment of the students continued, though some students and teachers did make efforts to reach out to them. Carlotta Walls LaNier said a chemistry teacher flat out told her classmates he didn't want black students in his class. The school later dismissed the teacher, LaNier said.
The ride to school often served as a group refuge, Melba Patillo Beals recalled. Sometimes, the students would just sit in silence, whether in a family member's car or an Army jeep, waiting for the torment and their classmates to turn their backs on them.
Ernest Green, the first black person to graduate from Central, said he had studied the history of other black trailblazers at the time but didn't think he would join their ranks. "We saw ourselves as groundbreakers in breaking tradition," said Green, who later served as an assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs. "But I don't see that any of us thought we would be part of the civil rights legacy."
Despite the torment and legal battle, eight of the nine black students completed the school year. Minnijean Brown Trickey said she was expelled when school officials found her at fault in a run-in with girls she called "white trash."
The following school year, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus closed the schools in Little Rock. He was re-elected governor the next month. The schools reopened in 1959, partly because of an effort by white businessmen who realized that the crisis was hurting their community and the economy.
In September 1957, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division enforced a federal court order to integrate the all-white Central High School at Little Rock, Ark. One of those soldiers, Chuck Christman, took these pictures.