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*On this date we remember the birth of Daisy Bates. She was a Black civil rights activist who coordinated the integration of Little Rock, Arkansas's Central High School.
Born in 1912 in Huttig, Ark., Daisy Gatson never knew her parents; her mother was killed by three white men after she resisted their sexual advances; her father left town, fearing reprisals if he sought to prosecute those responsibly. Orlee and Susie Smith, friends of her parents, adopted her. In 1941, she married L.C. Bates, a journalist. They moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and established a newspaper, the Arkansas State Press; it became the leading Black newspaper in the state and a powerful voice in the American Civil Rights Movement.
It was as president of the Arkansas state conference of the NAACP that Bates coordinated the efforts to integrate Little Rock's public schools after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed segregated public schools in 1954. Nine Black students, the "Little Rock Nine," were admitted to Little Rock's Central High School for the 1957-1958 school year.
Violent white reaction against integration forced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to order 1000 army paratroopers to Little Rock to restore order and protect the children. Bates was the students' leading advocate, escorting them safely to school until the crisis was resolved. She continued to serve the children, intervening with school officials during conflicts, and accompanying parents to school meetings. In 1962, Bates published her memoir of the Little Rock crisis, The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
Bates moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for the Democratic National Committee. She also served in the administration of U.S. President Lyndon Johnson working on anti-poverty programs. In 1965, she suffered a stroke and returned to Little Rock. In 1968 she moved to the rural Black community of Mitchellville in Desha County, eastern Arkansas. She concentrated on improving the lives of her neighbors by establishing a self-help program, which was responsible for new sewer systems, paved streets, a water system, and a community center. Bates revived the Arkansas State Press in 1984 after L. C. Bates, her husband, died in 1980. In the same year, Bates also earned the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, which was awarded by the University of Arkansas Fayetteville.
In 1986 the University of Arkansas Press republished The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which became the first reprinted edition ever to earn an American Book Award. The former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote the introduction for Bate’s autobiography. The following year she sold the newspaper but continued to act as a consultant. Little Rock paid perhaps the ultimate tribute, not only to Bates but to the new era she helped initiate, by opening the Daisy Bates Elementary School and by making the third Monday in February George Washington's Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day an official state holiday. Daisy Bates died in Little Rock on November 4, 1999.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.