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Remembering Little Rock, 52 Years Later

By Cynthia McCabe

Thursday, September 24, 2009 -- Fifty two years ago this week, nine Black students walked into Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas under the protection of armed federal troops in one of the most dramatic and important moments in the struggle for civil rights.

On Sept. 24, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard, and the next day, Sept. 25, students Melba Beals, Minnijena Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls, Terrence Roberts, Thelma Mothershed and Jefferson Thomas began a year of schooling that would be marked by threats, intimidation, and abuse.

It was three years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that deemed segregated schools unconstitutional.

The legacy of the Little Rock Nine is alive today. The high school continues to function as an educational facility and now boasts an adjacent museum. At the 2007 NEA Representative Assembly, six of the group led a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

It wasn’t the first time NEA members stood in unity with students who had been affected by segregation. Prior to Brown v. Board, NEA had refused to hold its Representative Assembly in cities with segregated schools. The American Teachers Association, which had been partnering with the NEA on racial justice issues since the 1920s and merged with NEA in 1966, provided much of the funding for the Brown v. Board case.

Educators for grades three through 12 can also teach their students about the civil rights movement using a lesson plan available here.

To learn more about NEA’s work in the continuing struggle for equal education for all students, through the closing of achievement gaps, head here.