Daisy Bates (Courtesy of arkansas.com)
Daisy Bates (Courtesy of arkansas.com)

Daisy Bates, a largely forgotten heroine of the civil rights movement, spearheaded the 1957 desegregation of the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

Resilient, courageous and displaying much resolve in her fight for freedom, justice, and equality, Bates was born in Huttig, Ark., in 1914. After three white men murdered her mother, Bates grew up in foster care.

At 15, she began traveling throughout the South with L.C. Bates, a journalist who sold insurance because of the scarcity of journalism jobs.

Eventually, the two were married, and they started the Arkansas Weekly, a Black-owned newspaper dedicated to the fight for civil rights.

Bates wrote extensively about criminal justice, educating Black people and exposing white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan.

While African Americans were delighted by the Arkansas Weekly, many White people were angered, causing advertisers to back away from the newspaper.

“No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies,” Bates famously wrote.

Bates would increase her activism, working with then-Attorney Thurgood Marshall to craft education reform and seeking to desegregate schools.

After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, where Bates and the NAACP prevailed over the Little Rock School Board, students were recruited to enter Central High School bravely.

In 1957, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus called in the National Guard to stop the Black students – known as The Little Rock Nine – from entering the school.

President Dwight Eisenhower stepped in and sent federal troops to escort the students into the school, and on Sept. 25, 1957, The Little Rock Nine finally entered Central High School.

“What is happening at Little Rock transcends segregation and integration; this is a question of right against wrong,” Bates wrote.

Law enforcement officials later ordered Bates’ arrest on charges that she failed to disclose information about her NAACP membership and the organization’s finances as required by a local ordinance.

In 1960, Bates published “The Long Shadow of Little Rock,” detailing the fight to integrate schools.

She later moved to Washington, D.C., and worked in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and the Democratic National Committee.

Later, Bates returned to Little Rock, where she hosted numerous community programs and continued fighting for civil rights.

In 1984, four years after her husband died, Bates restarted the Arkansas Weekly but finally retired the newspaper in 1988.

“Daisy Lee Bates is remembered as a formidable force in one of the biggest battles of school integration in the United States,” National Park Service historians wrote, also noting that she had received numerous awards for her social activism.

Her recognition included an honorary degree from the University of Arkansas.

Daisy Bates died on Nov. 4, 1999, in Little Rock.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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