Bates, Daisy Lee (1914—)
Bates, Daisy Lee (1914—)
Civil-rights activist, journalist, publisher, president of Arkansas NAACP, leader in the move to desegregate public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and mentor for the "Little Rock Nine" throughout their tumultuous years at Central High School. Name variations: Daisy Gatson Bates, Mrs. L.C. Bates. Born Daisy Lee Gatson on November 11, 1914, in Huttig, Arkansas (she relates that her date of birth is listed as 1920 on her driver's license, which has caused a number of errors about her age to appear in print); father worked in local lumber mill; adopted by Orlee and Susan Smith as an infant; attended public schools in Huttig and Memphis; attended Shorter College and Philander Smith College, both in Little Rock; married L(ucius) C(hristopher) Bates, in 1941 (died, August 1980).
As a teenager, moved to Memphis and graduated from high school there (1934); married, moved to Little Rock and, with husband, founded Arkansas State Press; first edition published (May 9, 1941); elected Arkansas state president of NAACP branches (1952); led in effort to integrate all grades of Little Rock public schools, including NAACP lawsuit in federal court challenging the "gradual" plan of the all-white school board (1956); spokeswoman, counselor, "surrogate mother" for the "Little Rock Nine" students chosen to pioneer the integration of Central High (1957); initiated NAACP "emergency high school" with teachers from nearby colleges when the nine students were denied enrollment (September 1957); worked successfully with NAACP lawyers to reverse Governor Faubus' segregation orders (September 1957); became target for segregationists (1957–59); arrested and fined for resisting city ordinance requiring disclosure of names of NAACP members and contributors to city council; U.S. Supreme Court reversed conviction in Bates v. Little Rock (1960); State Press bankrupted by advertisers boycott (Oct. 30, 1959); moved to New York to write memoirs and continue civil-rights activism (1960); enlisted by Kennedy Administration to work in voter registration project, Democratic National Committee; named director of Mitchelville, Arkansas, Office of Economic Opportunity during Johnson Administration (1964); worked with O.E.O. officials and others in community revitalization project in Mitchelville; made headlines during Nixon administration, protesting Nixon's cancellation of O.E.O. programs; active in many community organizations (1970s on).
Awards and honors:
co-winner, along with "Little Rock Nine" students, of Springarn Medal, NAACP (1958); recipient of honorary degrees from Lincoln University (1959), Philander Smith College and Washington University (1984), and University of Arkansas; Harriet Tubman Award; Diamond Cross of Malta from Cotillion Society; Mary Church Terrell Award from Delta Sigma Theta; Sojourner Truth Award; Robert S. Abbot Award; named "one of the top nine news personalities" (1957) by Associated Press; "outstanding citizen of the year" by National Council of Negro Women (1957); named among the top 100 most influential people in the state of Arkansas by Arkansas Gazette (1984); awarded the Senate Gavel from the Massachusetts State Senate; journalism scholarship established in her name at University of Arkansas; American Book Award from Before Columbus Foundation (1988), for The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Has received more than 210 different awards.
As a leader of the African-American community during the so-called "Battle of Little Rock" in 1957, Daisy Bates faced constant danger from white supremacists trying to thwart school desegregation. The numerous attempts on her life included the use of dynamite, firebombs, and bullets directed at her home. Her courage never wavered, and progress toward integration of the schools and the attainment of full civil rights for the black community, continued.
Daisy Bates was born Daisy Lee Gatson in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, on November 11, 1914. Huttig, which she describes in her memoir The Long Shadow of Little Rock, is located on the red clay soil of southeastern Arkansas on the Louisiana border, 60 miles west of the Mississippi River. During her childhood, the commercial center consisted of the post office, a general store-grocery, an ice cream parlor, and a movie house. The neat, white-painted houses of "White Town" were separated from the drab, red "shotgun shacks" of "Negra Town" by the unpaved Main Street. Other streets were not only unpaved, they were often unnamed. Daisy calls Huttig a "sawmill plantation" because the lumbermill owned most of the town. Her "Daddy" Orlee Smith, a lumber grader, worked for the mill, as did nearly every other paid worker in Huttig. Of course, the schools were segregated then. White children went to a "spacious school with a big lawn," while the African-American children attended a two-room school, using hand-me-down books and an inadequate pot-bellied stove for heat. Daisy recalls the many flowers of Huttig—roses, zinnias, lilacs, Indian paintbrush—as a pleasant memory of her youth.
Bates did not become acutely aware of racism until she was seven years old. Then, on an errand to the meat market, the butcher called her "nigger" and made her wait until white customers behind her had all been served. He then filled her order for center-cut chops with a handful of fat. The pain and humiliation of this moment were compounded for Daisy when, at age eight, a playmate told her that she was adopted. Asking about her natural parents, Bates learned of the rape and murder of her natural mother, apparently by three white men. Following that tragedy, her natural father had placed her in the care of his close friends Orlee and Susan Smith, and left the area. Her mother's brutal fate, and the humiliation suffered by all blacks in the "Jim Crow" South, haunted Daisy for the rest of her childhood. She broke her friendship with white playmates, she explains in her memoir, and had neither a good word nor kind look for any white person for years after.
Her adoptive parents, the Smiths, were gentle people who treated Daisy with kindness, yet discipline. A rude comment made to an adult or a game of marbles played "for keeps" against her mother's command would earn Bates a spanking or time "standing in the corner." Concerned about the change in Daisy's disposition, her frustration and anger toward all whites, Daisy's adoptive parents sent her to visit family friends in the Northern states and Canada. There she met white people who were different from those she knew back home in Arkansas. Slowly, as she related to Ebony magazine's Lerone Bennett, "the hate and the hurt dissolved."
In her memoir, Bates recalls that when she was about 20 years old, as her father lay dying of cancer, among his last words were an admonition not to hate. "Don't hate white people just because they're white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under … hate the discrimination … the insults … and try to do something about it, or your hate won't spell a thing." She calls this her moment of "rebirth."
In 1941, while living in Memphis (where she had attended high school), Daisy Gatson married L.C. Bates and moved to Little Rock. L.C. had majored in journalism at Wilberforce College in Ohio, but the Great Depression had cost him his job writing for the Kansas City Call (Missouri). Together they decided to start a newspaper, merging the practical with the ideal: to earn a living and to crusade for civil rights. Leasing a clattering press that had been printing a church paper, the couple founded the weekly Arkansas State Press, the only black publication with a certified permit in the entire state. In order to learn the skills needed to manage a newspaper, Daisy attended Little Rock's Shorter College for courses in public relations and business administration. Within a few months of its founding, the State Press' circulation grew to 10,000, and reached 22,000 at its peak. Its demise in 1959 left a gap that was to go unfilled for over two decades.
The Bateses quickly filled the State Press with stories of interest to the black community. As Calvin Smith writes in the Arkansas chapter of The Black Press in the South, 1865–1979, the State Press supported the policies of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and explained the relevance of those policies to Arkansas blacks. It also covered national stories like that of the Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott of 1955–56 (led by Martin Luther King, among others), and pressed for an end to racial discrimination in Arkansas. During the Second World War, the paper editorialized against segregation in the armed services, and for better treatment for black soldiers. In 1946, the paper pushed hard to end what it called the "police brutality" inflicted mainly on Little Rock's African-American population. This campaign peaked in 1942 when a white officer killed a black soldier from nearby Camp Robinson. Daisy Bates' description of the incident in the State Press included the following headline, "CITY PATROLMAN SHOOTS NEGRO SOLDIER," along with the subhead, "Body Riddled While Lying on Ground." The ramifications of this story foreshadowed the eventual demise of the paper 17 years later. The story angered whites and store owners, who feared that the "bad publicity" might harm their businesses. Advertisers withdrew their contracts and the State Press nearly folded.
In 1946, Daisy and L.C. Bates were arrested for "contempt of court," which stemmed from a controversial news story written by Daisy. That article questioned the fairness of the procedures and judicial instructions to the jury in a trial of three strikers arrested on a picket line. The judge of that case, incensed by the account, sentenced the couple to ten days in prison and a $100 fine. The Arkansas State Supreme Court ordered their release from jail, and later overturned the conviction on first amendment grounds (freedom of the press).
When the war ended in 1945, the return of black soldiers brought an escalation of racial tensions. Having fought for their country and having enjoyed more freedom in other parts of the world, black veterans grew determined to improve conditions at home. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was in the forefront of such efforts. Daisy Bates had joined the NAACP, and in 1952 she was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP branches, a position she held for several years.
Bates' civil-rights activism culminated with her work to desegregate the Little Rock public schools. This episode in her career began in 1954, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring separation of the races in public facilities violated the "equal protection clause" of the 14th Amendment. Through her NAACP activities and via newspaper editorials, Bates pushed for immediate compliance with the high-court ruling. When the school board announced a "gradual" plan for integration, commencing with grades 10 through 12 in 1957 and moving to lower grades in later years, Bates appealed to Superintendent of Schools Virgil Blossom to immediately enroll African-American children in all grades. Turned down, the NAACP filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of the school children. The court ruled that the gradual integration plan was an adequate step forward towards compliance with federal law, meaning that integration of lower grades would have to wait. Bates then began working with Superintendent Blossom to identify certain black students to begin attending Central High School in 1957. Nine students were selected, the "cream of the crop" from the segregated black schools, including Minnijean Brown and Elizabeth Eckford . They were scheduled to begin their classes on September 3, the day after Labor Day.
The "crisis" started late in the evening on September 2. Watching television, Bates heard Governor Orval Faubus warn that "blood would run in the streets" if black children attempted to enter Central High, and that he was declaring the high school to be "off limits" to them. Further, he surrounded the school with troops of the Arkansas National Guard, to "maintain order."
Bates, by now an experienced and recognized leader in the black community, took charge. She dealt with the press, politicians, and school officials. She met with the families to plan strategy; she counselled each of the students; and she prodded the authorities to carry out their duties. Her name was frequently in the news, and she became a symbol of hope and courage for other black Americans. The reason that Central High was integrated, Ebony was later to report, was "because Daisy Bates willed it." For example, when the nine students attempted to enter Central for the first time, on the morning of September 4, 1957, they were escorted through the mob by a group of local ministers, both white and black. Daisy Bates had arranged that, and not without difficulty, in order to provide the nine with some protection and encouragement. (The simple act of supporting the nine students took courage on the part of the ministers as well, and some paid a high price for it. Rev. Dunbar Ogden, for example, was forced to resign as pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church; his son, who also walked with the children that day, committed suicide after much harassment from angry segregationists.) The ministerial escort proved to no avail; the guardsmen (on orders of the governor) refused to let the black students pass through their ranks.
The presence of the National Guard, as well as the threatening segregationist mob outside the school, made it obvious that the crisis was at an impasse. While she worked the legal channels (with other NAACP officials) trying to open the school, Bates made arrangements for the "Little Rock Nine" to continue their lessons elsewhere. Employing professors from nearby black colleges as stand-in high school teachers, she received permission to hold lessons in a room at Little Rock's Philander Smith College. Soon, NAACP attorneys Wiley Branton and Thurgood Marshall obtained an injunction against the actions of Governor Faubus and the National Guard, and, on September 23rd, the "Nine" entered Central High for the first time. They were unable to stay for the entire school day, however. When the mob outside continued to threaten violence, the police decided to slip them out through a service entrance at the rear of the school and take them home. The mob was too large, the police believed, to be controlled.
Brown, Minnijean (1942—)
One of the Little Rock Nine. Name variations: Minnie Jean; Jean Brown Trickey. Born Minnie Jean Brown in 1942; oldest of four children of Imogene Brown (a nurse) and Bob Brown (a landscaper); attended Southern Illinois University; married Ray Trickey (a zoologist), in 1967 (divorced 1987); children: six, including Spirit Trickey (b. 1980); Leila Trickey (b. 1982).
"I figured, 'I'm a nice person. Once they get to know me, they'll see I'm okay.'" At least that was the thinking of Minnijean Brown as she dressed for her first day at Little Rock's Central High that September day in 1957. It would take 21 more days before Minnijean and the other members of the Little Rock Nine made it up the school's front steps. "Until then, I hadn't experienced hatred," Brown told People Weekly in September 1997.
Brown had been attending all-black Horace Mann High School when the school board, in an attempt to integrate Little Rock's public schools, passed out applications to those interested in transferring to Central. For Brown, it meant a chance to attend a school closer to home—one with newer textbooks and a better percentage of college-bound students. It also meant a chance to join the fight for equality.
But entering the high school turned out to be the easy part; staying there was almost impossible. Like the others, Brown was called names, harassed, kicked, pushed, and threatened on a daily basis. When she finally talked back, six months into the school year, she was expelled. For the next few years, says Brown, she was filled with "anger and sadness," convinced that she had let everybody down.
Her parents sent her to a private school in New York where she lived with friends. Though homesick, she flourished and went on to journalism school at Southern Illinois University. Married during the Vietnam war in 1967, she and her husband Ray Trickey moved to northern Ontario, Canada, so that he could avoid the draft. As of 1997, Brown was a social worker and antiracism consultant in Ottawa. "I would like young people to know about the Little Rock Nine to know that everyone can be heroic," she told an interviewer. "We were just teenagers and friends."
In September 1997, on the 40th anniversary of the school-house confrontation, President Bill Clinton led the Little Rock Nine up the steps of Central High and held open the door as they walked through. Brown was overwhelmed. "It was pretty strong symbolism," she said.
Hunt, Terence. "This Time, Blacks Are Welcomed at the Door," in The [New London] Day. September 26, 1997."
Right of Passage," in People Weekly. September 29, 1997, pp. 166–170.
Eckford, Elizabeth (1942—)
One of the Little Rock Nine. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1942; served in the army as a journalist; married with two sons.
In 1957, backed by a court order imposing integration, Elizabeth Eckford and eight other black students were allowed to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, a defining moment in the civil-rights battle. However, when 15-year-old Eckford—dressed in dark glasses, crinoline skirt and bobby socks—tried to enter the school alone, she was met by a menacing crowd, shouting, "Lynch her! Drag her over to that tree," and blocked from admittance by Arkansas National Guard bayonets, called out by Governor Orval Faubus. With the help of two white friends, Eckford escaped onto a city bus, her clothes so wet with spit that she had to wring them out when she arrived home. The episode did not play well on national television that evening.
Three weeks later, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne paratroopers to escort the students into Central High School, Eckford returned reluctantly. "Somewhere along the line, very soon it became an obligation," she said. "I realized that what we were doing was not for ourselves." Often asked to speak at schools, Eckford once replied: "I have encountered people who just don't understand the emotional cost that entails." Years after the incident, one woman, who had hounded Eckford that first day with taunts, called to apologize.
Rumors were spread that day that segregationists would seek vigilante "justice" against Daisy Bates and other African-Americans in Little Rock. At the Bates' home, friends and visiting reporters stood watch, well armed. No one slept. Around 11 pm, a police officer stopped by to inform them that a large motorcade of segregationists, armed with guns and dynamite, had just been stopped several blocks from the Bates' residence.
If Daisy Bates would find an honest job and go to work, and if the U.S. Supreme Court would keep its cottonpicking hands off the Little Rock School Board's affairs, we could open the Little Rock schools!
—Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas
The crisis in Little Rock received national attention from the mainstream press. Portraying it as a clash between federal and state authority, as well as a question of basic civil rights, The New York Times carried photos of mob harassment of African-Americans. The nation also learned that reporters from Life magazine were beaten, then arrested for causing a disturbance. Columnists wondered in print when the president would take action. On September 24, The New York Times carried a story about Daisy Bates entitled "Fighter for Integration," along with a photograph. The column explained that her life was being constantly threatened and that the nine students would not go back to Central High "until the President assured their safety."
President Dwight Eisenhower signed a proclamation authorizing the use of federal troops to ensure compliance with the court-ordered integration, and after nightfall on Tuesday, September 24, 1,100 officers and men of the 101st Airborne Division arrived in Little Rock. Late that evening, Bates was notified that the nine students should ready themselves for school the next morning. Because the families disconnected their telephones at midnight to block harassment calls, Daisy had to visit each personally; she finished this task at 3:00 am. Early the next morning, the nine students were met at the Bates' home by a convoy of troopers and driven to the school. A cordon of troops around the school made sure they got in safely.
Other students received the nine fairly cordially at first, but the honeymoon was short. Constant pressure by segregationists pushed the conflict into the classroom. Eventually, each of the nine was assigned a trooper as a bodyguard during school hours.
Segregationist whites in Little Rock blamed "agitators" for the social upheaval of integration and identified the NAACP as the foremost of these "agitators." Governor Faubus signed legislation banning any NAACP member from holding a position of employment with the state government, which included high school teaching. At the municipal level, the Little Rock city council passed an ordinance requiring groups such as the NAACP to disclose the names of all members and contributors. Reasoning that public disclosure of members' names might jeopardize their safety, NAACP president Daisy Bates refused to comply with this law, leading to her arrest on October 31, 1957. Convicted and fined, her appeal eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1960, the Court found the ordinance to be an unconstitutional infringement upon personal liberty. Since then, the case of Bates v. Little Rock has been frequently cited by the court in deciding cases where a balance must be drawn between the regulatory power of government and the freedom of the individual.
Throughout that first year, Daisy Bates acted as mentor and "surrogate mother" for the Little Rock Nine. The students gathered frequently at her home for meals, parties, and just to talk. (The documentary series "Eyes on the Prize" includes footage from a Thanksgiving celebration for the Little Rock Nine held at the Bates' home.) The nine students—pioneers of integration in their own right—looked to Bates for leadership and encouragement. The dual public-private roles she played—of public leader and champion for civil rights and justice, on the one hand, and of private, behind-the-scenes counselor and supporter on the other—distinguish Bates from other famous civil-rights activists.
Upon completion of their traumatic first year at Central High, the courage of the Little Rock Nine was recognized by the NAACP. But when they were invited to attend that organization's 49th Annual convention to receive the Springarn Medal, they refused to accept it because Daisy Bates had not been included as recipient. The committee reconvened and agreed that Bates should join the Little Rock Nine in receiving the Springarn Medal for "their pioneer role in upholding the basic ideals of American democracy in the face of continuing harassment and constant threats of bodily injury."
Prior to the start of the "Battle of Little Rock," Daisy and L.C. enjoyed considerable financial success from their newspaper business. They were able to build a modern, $30,000 home and hire a housekeeper (who is visible in numerous press photos taken in the Bates' home). From a material perspective, the couple had much to lose. The State Press continued the crusade for justice, but the controversy surrounding school integration proved its undoing. Advertisers boycotted the paper, either out of opposition or because they were intimidated into doing so by the segregationist Capital Citizens Council. Many feared that their own businesses would be boycotted if they continued to support the State Press. Further, as Langston Hughes explains in Fight For Freedom: The Story of the NAACP, paper carriers for the State Press were frequently attacked and beaten, and their papers stolen. The white-owned bank terminated the paper's lease on the building where the presses were located, and city taxes were raised on the Bates' home. The paper lost $10,000 worth of advertising in 1958 (at a time when the price of a chocolate bar was a nickel.) The Arkansas State Press published its final issue on October 29, 1959.
Ernest Green, the first African-American graduate of Central High School, received his diploma in May 1958, but the story doesn't end there. That summer, Governor Faubus signed new segregation laws giving him the power to close down Little Rock's high schools entirely, to prevent integration, and that is what he did. During the 1958–59 school year, the Arkansas Gazette reported on February 4, 1959, 643 of 2,915 white high school students and 442 of 750 African-American students did not attend school. The other students either transferred to different public-school districts, or went to private schools. Bates continued her efforts to overcome numerous obstacles to integration, and, by September 1959, the schools were open once again, with a few African-American students desegregating them.
By May of 1960, all of the original Little Rock Nine had completed their secondary schooling, and Bates shifted gears. She moved to New York and began writing her memoirs of the affair. Following the election of John F. Kennedy as president, she accepted a position working with the Democratic National Committee registering voters. Eventually, she carried this work to Arkansas, where many black citizens had never before been permitted to vote. On August 28, 1963, she joined other civil-rights leaders in the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to urge passage of the Civil Rights Act (passed in 1964). She told the mixed crowd of 250,000, then the largest demonstration ever held in Washington, "The women of this country … will sit-in and we will kneel-in and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote." In early January 1967, Bates ran for a seat on the national board of directors of the NAACP. She opposed the more conservative "traditionalists" who preferred less conflictual civil-rights progress, even if that meant moving ahead more slowly. Daisy Bates was the only member of the "Young Turk" faction who was elected to the board.
After Lyndon Johnson became president, Bates worked for the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), becoming the director of its Mitchelville Office. In this capacity, she worked to improve the living standards of the Arkansas poor. She was centrally involved in the Mitchelville Community Revitalization Project where she and other officials focused on health care, sanitation, water quality, and education in this predominantly black town. She again made headlines during the Nixon Administration when she protested Richard Nixon's decision to cut OEO funds. In 1985, five years after the death of her husband, Bates again began publishing the Arkansas State Press, which was purchased by a former employee in 1991.
Arkansas Gazette. Crisis in the South: The Little Rock Story. Little Rock, 1959.
"Bates, Daisy," in Encyclopedia of Black America. Edited by W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift. NY: Da Capo Press, 1981.
Bates, Daisy. The Long Shadow of Little Rock. NY: McKay, 1962 (reprint, with a new foreword, Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press, 1986).
"Bates, Daisy Lee," in Contemporary Authors. Vol. 127. Edited by Susan M. Trosky. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1989.
Bennett, Lerone, Jr. "First Lady of Little Rock," in Ebony. Vol. XIII, no. 11. September 1958, pp. 17–24.
Blossom, Virgil T. It Has Happened Here. NY: Harper, 1959.
"Catfish: 'Down Home Delicacy Becomes Big Business," in Ebony. Vol. XXIII, no. 12. October 1968, pp. 140–146.
Huckaby, Elizabeth. Crisis at Central High School: Little Rock, 1957–1958. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
Hughes, Langston. Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP. NY: W.W. Norton, 1962.
The New York Times. September 8, 23–30, 1957; January 20, 1959; August 14–15, 1959; November 4, 1962; August 29, 1963; November 2, 1966; January 4, 1967; August 29, 1980.
Robinson, Wilhelmena S. "Bates, Daisy Gatson," in International Library of Negro Life and History. Vol. II. Edited by Charles H. Wesley. NY: Publisher's Company, 1967.
Smith, Calvin. "Arkansas," in The Black Press in the South, 1865–1979. Edited by Henry Lewis Suggs. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.
"Whatever Happened to the Little Rock 9?" in Ebony. Vol. XXVII, no. 4. February 1972, pp. 136–138.
Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965. NY: Penguin Books, 1987.
The Daisy Bates Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Archives Division, Madison, Wisconsin.
"A Matter of Justice" (Program Two) of "Eyes On The Prize: The American Civil Rights Struggle, 1954–1965," television documentary series funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Blackside, 1986.
Michael D. Cary , Chair, Department of History and Political Science, Seton Hill College, Greensburg, Pennsylvania