Daisy Bates

Civil rights pioneer: No denying her role in making America try to live up to its promise.

November 08, 1999

IN JANUARY, a tornado blew through the house on West 28th Street in Little Rock where Daisy Bates lived her adult life, scattering papers and records to the winds.

But her remarkable achievements are carved in stone. At her death Thursday at 84, Ms. Bates was among the most honored Americans of the century.

As a little girl in the 1920s, she learned that her birth mother had died in a rape attempt at the hands of white men. She learned that to get a hamburger on the road in rural Arkansas, her family went to the back of a roadside shack.

In 1941, she and her husband, L. C. Bates, started the Arkansas State Press, a community weekly, in their home. Her fight for civil rights had begun. In 1952 she became state president of the NAACP. From 1954 on, she brought the lawsuits compelling even Arkansas to desegregate its schools.

This brought on the crisis at Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. Gov. Orval Faubus called up the National Guard to stop the nine students she was leading into school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to let them through.

She ignored the rocks hurled, the burning cross on her roof and the subsequent death of her newspaper from an advertiser boycott.

Before the eyes of the world, Daisy Bates mentored the Little Rock Nine to brave every threat, ignore every insult and stay the course. And the South changed forever.

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