Daisy Bates Papers, 1946-1966

Biography/History

Daisy Bates (née Daisy Lee Gatson) was born 11 November 1922 [1] in the southern Arkansas town of Huttig, in Union County. When she was a small child, her mother was attacked and killed by three white men; Daisy's grieving father subsequently left the child with friends, Orlee and Susie Gatson (or Smith), who raised her as a foster child. Daisy attended public schools in Huttig, and later studied at Shorter College and at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, where she studied business and economics. In Memphis in 1941 or 1942, she married L. C. (Lucius Christopher) Bates, a journalist working as an insurance salesman, who had been a friend of her foster father. The Bates moved to Little Rock shortly after their marriage, where they founded the weekly newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, with L. C. as editor and publisher and Daisy as co-publisher and manager.

Mrs. Bates was a member of a number of organizations, including the Arkansas Council of Human Relations, Urban League, YWCA, National Council of Negro Women, and the AME Church. Both she and her husband were active in the Little Rock and Arkansas NAACP; she served as president of the Arkansas NAACP from 1952 until 1961, and in 1963 was chosen as a member of the NAACP national board. The couple had a foster son, Clyde Cross Bates, who lived with them from 1951 to 1957. He was never formally adopted, and when the Bates came under attack in 1957, they were forced to return the boy to his own family.

In August 1956, following a suit brought by 33 parents, the United States District Court approved the Little Rock School District school desegregation plan of May 1955. Integration was ordered to begin in the senior high schools on 3 September 1957, and was to be extended to all schools by 1963. After further legal skirmishing, on 2 September, Governor Orval E. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard and State Police to surround Central High School, which was targeted for integration by Negroes, to “prevent disorder.” The all-black high school, Horace Mann, was not affected by his order. In a speech delivered that evening, Governor Faubus declared that “blood will run in the streets” if Negro students tried to enter Central High School.

In response to an appeal by NAACP attorneys Wiley Branton and Thurgood Marshall, a Federal judge ordered integration to proceed as scheduled, but the nine Negro students who attempted to enter Central on 4 September were stopped by the troops. Violent demonstrations of white opposition to desegregation ensued, and Governor Faubus daily helped spur the segregation sentiment. Finally, on 20 September, Faubus withdrew the National Guard in compliance with a Federal Court injunction obtained by the NAACP. The violence escalated in the vicinity of the high school, however, and on 24 September President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Paratroop Division to Central High School, and federalized the 10,000 men of the Arkansas National Guard, to protect the black students. Under military guard, the “Little Rock Nine” students completed the remainder of the school year.

Prior to the end of the 1957-1958 school year, the Little Rock School Board again petitioned the Federal District Court for a delay in integration at Central until January 1961. In August, the United States Circuit Court reversed the decree granting a delay, and ordered integration to begin in September. Governor Faubus responded by calling a special session of the state legislature for passage of several segregation bills, among them a bill empowering the governor to close any or all schools in any school district. After an appeal of the integration order to the United States Supreme Court failed on 11 September, Governor Faubus ordered Little Rock's high schools closed. Despite the efforts of Little Rock citizens, both black and white, to have the schools reopened, they remained closed for the entire school year.

Although the operation of the schools resumed in 1959, many of the original nine students had gone elsewhere to complete their education. Their families, too, felt the pressure of the opposition, and some left Little Rock to find other jobs and homes. Those who remained endured various forms of intimidation, including arrests, shootings, and bombings. As a friend, and as head of the Arkansas NAACP, Mrs. Bates provided support and encouragement to the students and was in daily communication with their parents, school officials, and the local and national NAACP offices. The Bates also suffered physical and emotional abuse from white opponents, and in late October 1959, were forced by declining revenues and a boycott by white advertisers to suspend publication of the Arkansas State Press.

Mrs. Bates spent much of the next two years in New York City, or on speaking engagements throughout the country. In 1962, her reminiscences of the desegregation crisis were published as The Long Shadow of Little Rock. For a time, her husband worked in Louisiana as a field secretary for the NAACP. At this writing, the Bates live in Little Rock.



Notes:
[1]

This date is disputed. See Box 3, folder 3 “Biographical Data.”