ifty years ago today, riot-trained troops from the 101st Airborne Division escorted nine black students through the doors of Central High School in Little Rock. Just 48 hours earlier, President Eisenhower deployed–in a single day–1,000 troops to restore order and to reassert federal authority in Arkansas’s capital city.
For weeks the entire nation had watched on television as a mob of angry white adults gathered each morning to prevent the nine black students from integrating Central High. It would come to be remembered as one of the ugliest and meanest white mobs of the entire civil rights era. And because of television–then still a very new medium–the horrible images of people galvanized by ferocious racial hatred were seared into the national consciousness.
Finally, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus succumbed to a kind of madness, if not to a perverse politics of racial hatred, and withdrew the National Guard from Central High, effectively turning the school over to the raging mob. The nine courageous black students, who had suffered so much to integrate the school, were withdrawn for their own protection. So, for a time, the authority of the mob prevailed over all governmental authority–local, state and federal. And this was the provocation that pushed a reluctant President Eisenhower to deploy federal troops.