The Little Rock Crisis
Address to the American People on
the Situation in Little Rock
By: Dwight Eisenhower
Date: September 24, 1957
Source: Eisenhower, Dwight. Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock. September 24, 1957. Available online at http://eisenhower.archives.gov/dl/LittleRock/littlerockdocuments.html ; website home page: http://eisenhower.archives.gov (accessed June 18, 2003).
About the Author: Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) graduated from West Point in 1915. By 1940, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. With the eruption of World War II (1939–1945), he swiftly advanced to four-star general in 1943. That same year, he received the assignment to lead one of the largest military campaigns in world history: the D day invasion of June 6, 1944. After the war, he went into politics and served as the thirty-fourth U.S. president from 1953 to 1961.
Telegram to President Dwight
By: Richard B. Russell
Date: September 27, 1957
Source: Russell, Richard B. Telegram to President Dwight Eisenhower. September 27, 1957. Available online at http://eisenhower.archives.gov/dl/LittleRock/littlerockdocuments.html ; website home page: http://eisenhower.archives.gov (accessed June 18, 2003).
About the Author: Richard B. Russell (1897–1971) began his political career in the Georgia House of Representatives before being elected governor. He went on to serve multiple terms in the U.S. Senate, becoming a powerful figure in Washington politics. Russell was considered as a presidential candidate in the 1952 election, but Democratic Party officials determined that his unwavering support for segregation would alienate many voters in the North. Adlai Stevenson was placed on the ticket instead. Russell remained in the Senate and continued to support segregation, participating in the effort to block President Lyndon Johnson's (served 1963–1969) civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
Letter to Richard B. Russell
By: Dwight Eisenhower
Date: September 27, 1957
Source: Eisenhower, Dwight. Letter to Richard B. Russell. September 27, 1957. Available online at http://eisenhower.archives.gov/dl/LittleRock/littlerockdocuments.html ; website home page: http://eisenhower.archives.gov (accessed June 18, 2003).
In the fall of his first year in office, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed California governor Earl Warren, a Republican, to be chief justice of the Supreme Court following the death of Chief Justice Fred Vinson. Eisenhower never suspected that Warren, a seemingly loyal Republican who campaigned for Eisenhower in 1952, would later direct the Court through its most liberal period in U.S. history. Soon after receiving an on-the-job confirmation by the Senate in 1954, Warren offered his most famous decision: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). This landmark ruling held that "separate but equal has no place" in public education. Thus, the Supreme Court, under Warren's direction, unanimously decided that segregation in public shools was "inherently" unconstitutional. The decision buttressed the burgeoning civil rights movement and ushered in a period of dramatic clashes over whether Americans, President Eisenhower in particular, would endorse or oppose racial equality in the United States.
Segregationists responded to the court's ruling by increasing the number of segregated schools. Faced with growing opposition and outright refusals to abide by Brown, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of issuing Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka II (1955), which asserted that the Court's orders must be carried out "with all deliberate speed." Early in 1956, ninety-six members of Congress—seventy-seven House members and nineteen senators representing eleven states—responded to the Court's demand with the Southern Manifesto. These segregationist legislators declared the Brown decision unconstitutional and implicitly encouraged their constituents to block integration. With two branches of government seemingly pitted against one another, Americans looked to President Eisenhower to decide the fate of segregation. Eisenhower, who privately supported segregation, struggled to avoid any direct action concerning civil rights. When Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ordered the state's National Guard to block nine African American children from attending Central High School in 1957, the president finally entered the fray.
On September 24, 1957, Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730, which federalized the Arkansas National Guard, and ordered it to permit the students' entrance into Central High. He also dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to protect the "Little Rock Nine." That evening, Eisenhower justified his decision in a nationally televised statement. He argued that his actions were necessary to maintain constitutional order, but he refused to Page 255 | Top of Article support integration and did not mention the term anywhere in his address. Throughout the address, he justified his decision to use military force to integrate Central High School as a matter of law, order, and national security.
To bolster his argument, Eisenhower reminded his audience of the global context in which these events took place. Governor Faubus and other "extremists," according to Eisenhower, threatened national security by providing aid to the Soviet Union's propaganda campaign against the United States. In line with his other domestic policy statements, he called for national unity to defeat a common enemy. This rhetoric served to quell dissent during the Cold War at the same time that it allowed Eisenhower a justification for his order that did not explicitly endorse civil rights.
Nonetheless, segregationists raged against the president's decision to intervene in the Little Rock crisis. Georgia senator Richard B. Russell, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, telegrammed the White House to show his displeasure with Eisenhower's decision. Furthermore, he believed the federal actions were putting state and individual liberties at stake.
Eisenhower's September 27 response to Russell's diatribe offered the same rationale as given in his earlier speech. But he went further by explaining that his actions were required by the office of the presidency.
Governor Faubus shut down Little Rock's high schools the following year, and segregationist sentiment actually increased over the next few years. Eisenhower backed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, but this toothless act did not provide sufficient federal enforcement provisions to make any real headway in the areas of African American voting or civil rights.
Primary Source: Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock
SYNOPSIS: Eisenhower skillfully utilized the new medium of television to his advantage as the television industry boomed during the 1950s. He offered the first televised presidential press conference and often addressed the nation in live broadcasts. And so, as the nation learns of his decision to order the Arkansas National Guard to protect the nine students integrating a public school in Little Rock, Eisenhower gives this address to explain his decision and to persuade the public to support him and his controversial tactic.
My Fellow Citizens:
For a few minutes I want to speak to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock. For this talk I have come to the President's office in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island, but I felt that, in speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson, my words would more clearly convey both the sadness I feel in the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without unlawful interference.
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists, disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of again preventing the carrying out of the Court's order relating to the admission of Negro children to the school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold Federal Courts, the President's responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice still continues.
It is important that the reasons for my action be understood by all citizens.
As you know, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that separate public educational facilities for the races are inherently unequal and therefore compulsory school segregation laws are unconstitutional.
Our personal opinions about the decision have no bearing on the matter of enforcement; the responsibility and authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution are clear. Local Federal Courts were instructed by the Supreme Court to issue such orders and decrees as might be necessary to achieve admission to public schools without regard to race—and with all deliberate speed.…
It was my hope that this localized situation would be brought under control by city and State authorities. If the use of local police powers had been sufficient, our traditional method of leaving the problem
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in those hands would have been pursued. But when large gatherings of obstructionists made it impossible for the decrees of the Court to be carried out, both the law and the national interest demanded that the President take action.…
The very basis of our individual rights and freedoms is the certainty that the President and the Executive Branch of Government will support and insure the carrying out of the decisions of the Federal Courts, even, when necessary with all the means at the President's command.
Unless the President did so, anarchy would result.
There would be no security for any except that which each one of us could provide for himself.
The interest of the nation in the proper fulfillment of the law's requirements cannot yield to opposition and demonstrations by some few persons.
Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts.…
The proper use of the powers of the Executive Branch to enforce the orders of a Federal Court is limited to extraordinary and compelling circumstances. Manifestly, such an extreme situation has been created in Little Rock. This challenge must be met with such measures as will preserve to the people as a whole their lawfully protected rights in a climate permitting their free and fair exercise.
The overwhelming majority of our people in every section of the country are united in their respect for observance of the law—even in those cases where they may disagree with that law.…
In the South, as elsewhere, citizens are keenly aware of the tremendous disservice that has been done to the people of Arkansas in the eyes of the nation, and that has been done to the nation in the eyes of the world.
At a time when we face a grave situation abroad because of the hatred that Communism bears toward a system of government based on human rights, it would be difficult to exaggerate the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence, and indeed to the safety, of our nation and the world.
Our enemies are gloating over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent our nation. We are portrayed as a violator of those standards of conduct which the peoples of the world united to proclaim in the Charter of the United Nations. There they affirmed "faith in fundamental human rights and Page 257 | Top of Article in the dignity of the human person" and did so "without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."
And so, with confidence, I call upon citizens of the State of Arkansas to assist in bringing to an immediate end all interference with the law and its processes. If resistance to the Federal Court orders ceases at once, the further presence of Federal troops will be unnecessary and the City of Little Rock will return to its normal habits of peace and order and a blot upon the fair name and high honor of our nation in the world will be removed.
Thus will be restored the image of America and of all its parts as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Primary Source: Telegram to President Dwight Eisenhower
SYNOPSIS: In this telegram to Eisenhower, Russell compares the National Guard's actions to the terrorism employed in Nazi Germany. For Russell and other so-called state's rights activists, federal actions to promote integration unconstitutionally infringe on the liberties of individuals and the states—virtually the same argument used to condone segregation and slavery in previous decades.
The White House
As a citizen, as a Senator of the United States, and as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, I must vigorously protest the highhanded and illegal methods being employed by the Armed Forces of the United States under your command who are carrying out your orders to mix the races in the public schools of Little Rock, Arkansas. If reports of reputable press associations and news writers are to be believed, these soldiers are disregarding and overriding the elementary rights of American citizens by applying tactics which must have been copied from the manual issued the officers of Hitler's Storm Troopers. The overpowering military might you have assembled there makes such actions as these newspaper accounts describe completely inexcusable unless the purpose be to intimidate and over-awe all the people of the country who are opposed to mixing the races by force.
These dispatches agree that an unarmed citizen had his head cracked by a rifle butt while standing peacefully on private property more than one block removed from the school after he had told your troopers that he was there with the consent of the owner of the property.
Another account relates that three or more citizens were pushed down a street, with bayonets at their throats, while a bellicose sergeant shouted again and again quote keep the bayonets at their throats unquote.
An Associated Press dispatch from Little Rock dated today states that eight persons arrested by your troopers at Central High School yesterday had been held in jail incommunicado overnight without any charges having been filed against them and had been denied the right to call a lawyer. The dispatch further states that efforts to find out what would be done with the eight people were fruitless, and both the FBI and the United States Marshal disclaimed any knowledge of the case.
The present Supreme Court has in a number of cases freed confessed Negro rapists and murderers because they were not arraigned within the period of time that these eight people have been imprisoned and denied the right of counsel by military might.
Under the decision of Ex-parte Milligan, military courts have no jurisdiction where civil courts are available. I would not challenge any contention that the present Supreme Court would reverse this decision in any case involving school integration, but they have not yet done so, and under existing law these eight men, whatever may have been their crime, have been clearly denied their constitutional rights.
I do not have first hand information of the feeling of the majority of the people in Little Rock. The attendance in this school would indicate that a majority of the people do not have very strong feelings against integrating the school but if a minority of one who has confessed the crime of rape and murder is entitled to early arraignment and counsel, the eight dissenters at Little Rock should not be denied their rights merely because the President of the United States saw fit to place the school under military control.
The laws of this country give ample authority to United States Marshals to deputize a posse of sufficient strength to maintain order and carry out any decision of the courts. It has never contemplated that such a great aggregation of military might would be diverted for this purpose.
However, since you have seen fit to order the troopers into action, they should observe the elementary rights of American citizens who are violating no federal law, especially in the absence of a declaration of martial law.
There are millions of patriotic people in this country who will strongly resent the strong armed totalitarian police-state methods being employed at Little Rock. The fact that these tactics are unnecessary makes it even more tragic.
There are a number of other aspects of this case as reported in the press which do not reflect credit upon those in command of this army of troopers. Unless corrected this will bring the armed services into disrepute. I earnestly insist that orders be issued prohibiting these acts of violence which are wholly unnecessary, especially in view of the facts that the Negro children have a large armed personal escort to and from the school; that armed troopers patrol the corridors and classrooms; and that a cordon of armed troopers surrounds the school.
The United States government is undoubtedly liable in pecuniary damages for any attacks upon un-offending citizens. We have surrendered an American soldier accused of an attack of violence against a Japanese National to the Japanese courts for trial. We cannot do less than investigate these attacks and properly punish all of those who may have been guilty of unnecessary violence against inoffensive and peacable American citizens.
Richard B. Russell
Primary Source: Letter to Richard B. Russell
SYNOPSIS: In this letter, Eisenhower remains "saddened" by recent events. He explains why he is required, by his office, to react to the Arkansas governor's misuse of police powers. In his private correspondence, he characterized his actions as being obligations rather than decisions that the duties of the presidency "required" him to carry out. Eisenhower again attempted to draw a fine line between appearing as an integrationist or a segregationist, in the process frustrating leaders of and against the civil rights movement.
Newport, Rhode Island, September 27, 1957
The Honorable Richard B. Russell
United States Senate
Few times in my life have I felt as saddened as when the obligations of my office required me to order the use of force within a state to carry out the decisions of a Federal Court. My conviction is that had the police powers of the State of Arkansas been utilized not to frustrate the orders of the Court but to support them, the ensuing violence and open disrespect for the law and the Federal Judiciary would never have occurred. The Arkansas National Guard could have handled the situation with ease had it been instructed to do so. As a matter of fact, had the integration of Central High School been permitted to take place without the intervention of the National Guard, there is little doubt that the process would have gone along quite as smoothly and quietly as it has in other Arkansas communities. When a State, by seeking to frustrate the orders of a Federal Court, encourages mobs of extremists to flout the orders of a Federal Court, and when a State refuses to utilize its police powers to protect against mobs persons who are peaceably exercising their right under the Constitution as defined in such Court orders, the oath of office of the President requires that he take action to give that protection. Failure to act in such a case would be tantamount to acquiescence in anarchy and the dissolution of the union.
I must say that I completely fail to comprehend your comparison of our troops to Hitler's storm troopers. In one case military power was used to further the ambitions and purposes of a ruthless dictator; in the other to preserve the institutions of free government.
You allege certain wrong-doings on the part of individual soldiers at Little Rock. The Secretary of the Army will assemble the facts and report them directly to you.
With warm regard,
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ambrose, Stephen E. Eisenhower: The President. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
Burk, Robert F. The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.
Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of "Brown v. Board of Education" and Black America's Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf, 1976.
"Little Rock School Integration Crisis." Dwight D. Eisenhower Library. Available online at http://eisenhower.archives.gov/dl/LittleRock/littlerockdocuments.html ; website home page: http://eisenhower.archives.gov (accessed June 18, 2003).