NOVEMBER 11, 1914
NOVEMBER 4, 1999
Daisy Lee Gaston Bates is best known for her leadership in the struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. A native of Arkansas, she knew well the realities of education under segregation. The black schools in her local school system, like others under segregation, suffered from inadequate facilities and lack of access to textbooks and supplies. This experience had a profound effect on her, and it moved her to action, as it did so many others in the civil rights era. In 1941 Daisy Gaston married L. C. Bates, a journalist from Mississippi, and the two published the weekly Arkansas State Press. Through the paper they addressed major issues facing African Americans, making it a popular and effective community instrument.
As president of the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Bates, with other activists, sought to move the school systems to comply with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Although Little Rock had designed a program for integrating its schools, it had failed to act on the plan. One of the tactics Bates employed to draw attention to this was photographing African-American children attempting to gain admission toPage 225 | Top of Article white public schools. This tactic was bolstered by an NAACP lawsuit against the school board for failure to implement a desegregation plan. Finally, the school board agreed to integrate Central High School in the fall of 1957.
Bates spearheaded the movement to organize students to register for Central. While almost eighty students were willing to register, the school board placed obstacles in the way and dissuaded parents, bringing the final number to nine. None of these was among the group of students involved in the NAACP court case against the Little Rock board. It was clear that there would be violence surrounding the opening of school when, two weeks before the semester began, a rock was thrown through the window of Bates's home. A note attached to the rock read, "Stone this time. Dynamite next."
Bates took responsibility for transporting the nine students to Central High. However, under the pretense of maintaining order, Gov. Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the nine from entering the school. The immediate situation was resolved when President Dwight D. Eisenhower brought the Arkansas National Guard under federal control to protect the students and their right to attend Central High School. The "Little Rock Nine" finally began the school year on September 25, 1957. It was the beginning of what would prove to be a very difficult year.
Bates and other state NAACP officials were arrested the following month for violating a statute that required organizations to furnish the county with membership and financial information. The statute was designed to hinder the operations of civil rights organizations. Bates was convicted and fined one hundred dollars, but her conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Following the integration of Central High, Daisy Bates continued to be active in Democratic Party politics, voter registration, and community projects and continued to be a voice in the ongoing struggle for civil rights until her death in 1999. In tribute to her achievements, a nonprofit group bought Bates's Little Rock house in 1998 with the intention of transforming it into a civil rights museum. In 2001 Bates was honored when Arkansas declared a state holiday in her name.
Bates, Daisy. The Long Shadow of Little Rock. New York: David McKay, 1962.
Huckaby, Elizabeth. Crisis at Central High School: Little Rock, 1957–1958. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965. New York: Viking, 1987.
JUDITH WEISENFELD (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005