• Alexander O

The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir, by Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates was a prominent female civil rights activist in the 1950s. Among her greatest achievements was her grassroots movement for the desegregation of schools in Arkansas on which her memoir is based.

At its centre, her memoir tells the story of the Little Rock Nine, the first nine black students to be integrated into the white-only Little Rock Central High School in 1957. However, the memoir can also be read as a biography of the author that gives context to the events of Little Rock Central High School.

The memoir starts off with the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, in which the Court ordered the desegregation of students in schools across America. It was from that moment that Daisy Bates turned her civil rights efforts towards education.

Prior to this, Daisy Bates was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as the president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP branches. During the same period, she ran a weekly State-wide newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, with her husband. The Arkansas State Press focused on advocacy journalism, and was an early voice for civil rights in Arkansas. When Bates began her desegregation work in Little Rock, the Arkansas State Press published violations of the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in Arkansas.

In the memoir, Bates traces the journey from her grassroots civil rights movements in Little Rock, to her close and personal position as advisor for the Little Rock Nine students. The goal was a phased integration in senior and junior high schools, and then elementary schools. In recording the gradual struggle through her experiences, the memoir serves a compelling primary source describing the civil rights movement.

The first attempt at the formerly white-only Central High School in Little Rock became the battleground for social reform. In retaliation, hundreds of white protestors turned up to obstruct and dissuade the nine black students from entering the school. Daisy Bates described the moment in history as a “reign of terror.”

Although the law was on her side, the white public was still bold enough to threaten her life. Bates recalls her home being battered with improvised bombs and stocking her home with firearms for personal safety. In another occasion, a dummy in her likeness was hanged in a mock lynching. Moreover, her newspaper the Arkansas State Press suffered sales and sponsorship due to her activism that lead to its eventual closure.

The Long Shadow of Little Rock presents the personal story of one woman’s stand against racial terror and the great personal cost she faced for the fair education of all African American children.

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