The following excerpt on the integration of Central High School in Little Rock comes from Mary L. Dudziak’s book Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy:
“Eisenhower’s decision to act was not based on support for desegregation. He was not a supporter of court-ordered desegregation or of the Brown decision itself. Eisenhower communicated his feelings about the desegregation cases to Chief Justice Earl Warren while the cases were pending. He invited Warren to a dinner at the White House. Following the meal, Warren later wrote, Eisenhower took him by the arm, and “as we walked along, speaking of the Southern states in the segregation cases, he said, ‘These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit alongside some big overgrown Negroes.'” Justice Warren felt that President Eisenhower’s lack of support for Brown contributed to the resistance to the decision. He believed that “much of our racial strife could have been avoided” if the president had stood up for the principle of equality. The nation seemed to agree with Justice Warren’s assessment. According to a 1955 Gallup Poll, one of the main criticisms of Eisenhower’s leadership was that he “encourages segregation.” When Brown was decided, Eisenhower was asked whether he had “any advice to give the South as to just how to react to the recent Supreme Court decision banning segregation.” The president responded, “Not in the slightest.” He thought that South Carolina Governor James Byrnes “made a very fine statement when he said let us be calm, and let us be reasonable, and let us look this thing in the face.” As for his own role, Eisenhower said, “The Supreme Court has spoken, and I am sworn to uphold the Constitutional process in this country. And I am trying – will obey it.”
Not withstanding his lack of enthusiasm for Brown, Eisenhower became deeply involved in managing the Little Rock crisis. He was concerned, in part, with the threat the crisis posed for the rule of law. As Eisenhower described it in his memoirs, “[t]hat situation, if a successful defiance of federal court orders continued, could lead to a breakdown of law and order in a widening area.” Eisenhower was angry with Governor Faubus, who he felt had defied him. But the breakdown of law and order and the management of an insubordinate governor were not all that was at stake. In addition, Eisenhower wrote, “around the world it could continue to feed the mill of Soviet propagandaists who by word and picture were telling the world of the ‘racial terror’ in the United States.” It was a mix of factors, domestic and international, that led to Eisenhower’s extraordinary action in Little Rock.
The president’s top aides emphasized the international impact of the Little Rock crisis. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge, wrote President Eisenhower that:
“Here at the United Nations I can clearly see the harm that the riots in Little Rock are doing to our foreign relations. More than two-thirds of the world is non-white and the reactions of the representatives of these people is easy to see. I suspect that we lost several votes on the Chinese communist item because of Little Rock.” …
According to the draft language, Eisenhower would “beg the people of Arkansas to erase the blot upon the fair name and high honor of our nation.” This was a time when the nation “faces the gravest of peril” from enemies abroad, and “patriotism cannot be reconciled with conduct which injures grievously our nation.” …
Little Rock, however, was a crisis of such magnitude for worldwide perceptions of race and American democracy that it would become the reference point for the future. Later presidents, facing crises of their own, would try their best to avoid “another Little Rock.”
President Dwight Eisenhower didn’t support the Brown decision or the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. He sent in the the 101st Airborne Division to integrate Central High School and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 though because he was a Cold Warrior. The same was true of President John F. Kennedy. The “leader of the free world” had a reputation in the United Nations to preserve.
The American Empire was in a global struggle with the Soviet Union at the time over the hearts and minds of the Third World. It is how we got embroiled in the Vietnam War. Southern segregation was an albatross for the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The bad publicity was used in anti-American propaganda by the Soviets to promote communism over the gospel of liberalism and free-market capitalism.
That’s the reason why the Jim Crow South had to go. It was because of our post-World War II commitment to imperialism and the defense of free-market capitalism. The mainstream media was so concentrated at the time that it had the power to create bad optics to drive its political agenda.
In 2014, I was in Little Rock with some friends and we decided to check out Central High School. After 57 years of integration, the surrounding neighborhood had become a violent, blighted ghetto:
The Brown decision which transformed our education system was based on the latest cutting edge research in mid-20th century sociology which had assured our political class that racial gaps were temporary and were caused by discrimination and segregation and there were no biological racial differences in IQ that wishful thinking by progressive policymakers couldn’t solve:
This is the HBO documentary “Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later.”
Fifty years after President Eisenhower used the 101st Airborne Division to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957, two filmmakers went back to check out all the “progress” that has unfolded there since this watershed victory by the Civil Rights Movement.
Black students are now the majority at Central High School and their parents have taken over the surrounding neighborhood. The student body now has a black president. Civil rights martyr Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine, now teaches a high school course about the evils of “white privilege” and “institutional racism.” She has a monument dedicated to her memory at the Arkansas State Capitol. President Bill Clinton has even designated Central High School a National Historic Site.
MLK’s dream came true in Little Rock. After a billion dollars was spent by the federal government over half a century fostering racial equality in this high school, what was the result?
Central High School is still one of the best public high schools in Arkansas on account of its lavish funding, which attracts a rich, highly intelligent and capable White minority, who are shielded from the black majority by enrollment in AP courses. Meanwhile, the majority of black students are several grade levels behind their White peers. In spite of their presence inside the same integrated high school, their instruction by a corps of benevolent anti-racist pedagogues, the sympathy of the world and the full force and resources of the federal government behind them, the black students exist in a parallel universe of academic failure and broken homes, where everyone seems to know someone who has been shot to death.
The racial gap in academic achievement in Little Rock remains impregnable. It is literally less of a challenge to send a probe to explore the methane seas of Titan. Blacks have taken over the surrounding neighborhood, which used to be the pride of Little Rock, and have transformed it into a desolate wasteland populated by crackheads milling about the ruins of abandoned businesses tagged with graffiti, vacant lots overgrown with weeds which are reverting to the wilderness and blighted houses with boarded up windows and garbage strewn about their yards. Gang warfare has turned the surrounding area into a war zone, which is silently protested by a makeshift memorial to black-on-black violent crime.
Central High School is a place where the children of White investment bankers play on the golf team and the football stadium is surrounded by razor wire to keep the black residents of the surrounding neighborhood at bay. Who could watch this documentary and check out the surrounding neighborhood and not come away impressed with this glorious triumph of the Civil Rights Movement?