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The North Little Rock Six were six African-American students who attempted to desegregate North Little Rock High School on September 9, 1957. Two years earlier, the North Little Rock School Board voted to begin integrating classes at the twelfth-grade level; however, after Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus publicly stated opposition to the integration of Little Rock Central High School and summoned the Arkansas National Guard to the school on September 2, 1957, the directors of the North Little Rock School Board put a halt to their integration plan.
Seven seniors from the all-black Scipio Jones High School initially registered to attend North Little Rock High for the 1957–58 school year, but only six students attempted to enroll. They were Richard Lindsey, Gerald Persons, Harold Smith, Eugene Hall, Frank Henderson, and William Henderson. The students were accompanied by four African-American ministers: Fred D. Gipson, Daniel J. Webster, John H. Gipson, and Walter B. Banks. Although the North Little Rock School Board announced the decision to postpone “indefinitely” the integration of North Little Rock High on September 4, 1957, the students and the four ministers arrived on September 9 for the first day of school.
The six students were approached by ten white students at the front steps of the school. The white students pushed and shoved them away from the steps as forty to fifty white adults watched from across the street. Principal George Miller and Superintendant F. Bruce Wright came out of the school and asked the six students to come inside to talk. The North Little Rock Six climbed the stairs again and reached the front door, but they were met by twenty to thirty white students blocking the entrance. The white students refused to move even after Superintendant Wright threatened them with no admittance to the school for the year. The six black students were instructed by Wright to meet him at the school administration building at 28th and Popular streets for their conference.
North Little Rock (Pulaski County) police had been posted at the school since 6:00 a.m., many equipped with nightsticks to avert violence, but they were not instructed to prevent any African-American students from entering the school. On the morning of September 9, 1957, there was no National Guard presence, although Mayor Almon C. Perry later suggested having the National Guard brought in due to the growing numbers of protesters. By noon on September 9, 1957, the crowd of segregationists had grown to around 200. Superintendant Wright told the Associated Press that he advised the six students to enroll in Scipio Jones High School, stating, “I don’t think integration will work at this time, judging from the temperament of the crowd.” The six students did not attempt again to desegregate the school.
Unlike the Little Rock Board of Education, which was under a federal court order to begin desegregating Little Rock Central High School as a result of a lawsuit brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), neither the North Little Rock School Board nor the six students and four ministers had communication with the NAACP. When contacted, Daisy Bates, the president of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) chapter of the NAACP, said she had not spoken with the students and had no prior knowledge of their intentions. A week later, Rev. Banks announced that the ministers and the parents of the students would be filing a lawsuit in the Federal District Court to force integration, but a suit was never filed, and by September 23, 1957, the students had enrolled at Scipio Jones High School.
The North Little Rock School District did not desegregate until September 3, 1964, when eight African-American students were admitted at the all-white Clendenin and Riverside elementary schools. The North Little Rock Six did not receive recognition until September 9, 2007, when they were honored at a ceremony hosted by the City of North Little Rock and the North Little Rock–based nonprofit STAND Foundation.
For additional information:
Bradburn, Cary. On the Opposite Shore: The Making of North Little Rock. Marceline, Missouri: Walsworth Publishing Company, 2004.
Cope, Graeme. “‘Something Would Develop to Prevent It’: North Little Rock and School Desegregation, 1954–1957.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 74 (Summar 2015): 109–129.
Sandlin, Jake. “Crowd, History Turned Away NLR Six.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 9, 2007, pp. 1, 17A.
———. “Integration Trailblazers Retrace Steps.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 10, 2007, pp. 1B, 3B.
Rachel M. Miller
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Last Updated 1/11/2019
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