Sunday, February 22, 2015

BHM: Daisy Bates

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"We will kneel-in, we will sit-in, until we can eat in any corner in the United States. We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in, and we will kneel-in, and we will lie-in, if necessary, until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge you, the women of America."

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was born on November 11, 1914. She grew up in southern Arkansas in the small sawmill town of Huttig. Bates was raised by her foster parents, Orle and Susie Smith, who she believed were her birth parents for many years. In "The Death of my Mother," Bates recounted learning as a child that her birth mother had been raped and murdered by three local white men. Learning of her mothers death and knowing that nothing ever was done about it fueled her anger.

Bates was the former president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and also a longtime board member of the national NAACP. In 1957, she helped to enforce the Supreme Court’s school desegregation rulings by working with a group of teenagers later known as the Little Rock Nine. She helped recruit the nine black teenagers and escorted them through irate mobs of white adults and into their first classes at Little Rock Central High School, a previously all-white institution.

Nevertheless, the pandemonium at Central High School caused superintendent Virgil Blossom to dismiss school that first day of desegregation, and the crowds dispersed. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and dispatching the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to ensure that the court orders were enforced. The troops maintained order, and desegregation proceeded. In the 1958-1959 school year, however, public schools in Little Rock were closed in another attempt to roll back desegregation. That period is known as "The Lost Year" in Arkansas.

As a result, Bates and her husband Lucious lost their business. She was jailed, threatened, and the Klu Klux Klan burned an eight-foot cross on her lawn. After Bates moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for the Democratic National Committee. She also served in the administration of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson working on anti-poverty programs.

Following a stroke she moved back to Arkansas. Little Rock paid perhaps the ultimate tribute, not only to Bates but to the new era she helped initiate, by opening the Daisy Bates Elementary School. Bates passed away in Little Rock on November 4, 1999.


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