Sixty-three years ago this month, nine Black students -- who are known to history as the "Little Rock Nine" -- braved violent mobs and endured emotional and physical abuse to desegregate the all-White Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Nearly all of the U.S. bore witness to this major test of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that desegregated the country's schools. The events in Little Rock played out on national and international television, in newspapers and on the radio. Results from a Gallup poll conducted Sept. 19-24, 1957, showed that 95% of Americans said they had either heard or read "about the trouble in Little Rock, Arkansas, over school integration."
Part of the "trouble" included Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus' placing Arkansas national guardsmen around the school to keep the Black students out. Of the Americans who said they had either heard or read of the trouble in Little Rock, 47% believed Faubus had done the wrong thing, 42% said he had done the right thing and 11% had no opinion.
Results from that same September poll indicated that more Americans thought the nine Black students should be admitted immediately to the high school, rather than wait a year as one proposed solution to the "present trouble in Arkansas." Fifty-one percent of Americans thought the students should be admitted "now," 25% thought they should "wait," 16% volunteered that they should "never integrate" and 7% offered no opinion.
|Never integrate (vol.)||16|
|Asked of people who had heard or read about the situation in Little Rock, Arkansas; (vol.) = volunteered response|
|Gallup, Sept. 19-24, 1957|
On Sept. 24, 1957 -- the last day of the September poll -- President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered roughly 1,000 troops and federalized the 10,000-man Arkansas National Guard to enforce the federal desegregation order in Little Rock. The Black students were escorted under guard into the school on Sept. 25.
Gallup surveys several weeks later showed the majority of Americans (64%) thought Eisenhower had done the right thing, but opinion split largely along North and South lines. In the South, 36% of adults said Eisenhower had done the right thing, while 53% said he had done the wrong thing. In the North, 74% said he had done the right thing, while 16% said he did the wrong thing.
Many people in both the South and North volunteered that what had happened in Little Rock was "terrible" and "awful" and "should not have happened." However, the reasons they offered for thinking this way were often very different.
"I think it's a disgrace," one young woman from Virginia told the interviewers at the time. "Why do those colored children want to go to an all-White school now -- they never have before. Each school should be allowed to protect itself."
An older man from New York also characterized the situation as "a shameful thing." He said, "The facilities for Negroes' schooling in the South is poor. They should be allowed the same advantages as the Whites. Eisenhower had little choice in doing what he did with so much violence going on."
Six decades since that fateful September, the Little Rock Nine hold a revered place in civil rights history, but the need to address racial equity in education continues. As recently as 2016, the majority of Americans (71%) told Gallup that Black children in their communities had as good a chance as White children to get a good education; however, 28% -- including half of Black Americans -- did not share this view.
These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.
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