After witnessing two flaming crosses on her property with signs reading “GO BACK TO AFRICA! KKK.”, Daisy Bates became well aware of her social security and protection as then president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Despite these frequent racial incidents, Daisy Bates went on to become one of the most important figures in the African American community in the city of Little Rock. Bates was a feminist well before the term was invented as she fought for the rights of nine African American students to attend the then all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.
Considering Daisy Bates’ early childhood, she was not expected to make history. Bates was born on November 11, 1914 in a small, segregated town in Arkansas to her biological father and mother, John Gatson and Millie Riley. Unfortunately, shortly after her birth, her mother was raped and killed by three local white men. Due to her father’s fear of racial conflict, Bates was sent to be raised by friends of her parents, Orlee and Susie Smith. She was raised as their own until she was revealed the truth when she was eight years old by one of her peers. Learning of her mother's death and realizing that justice for her was never truly served due to the lack of motivation to the case from police officers stimulated her anger and created her hatred for white people. Her father, on his deathbed, addressed her hatred and encouraged her to use her anger as a motivation to fight against discrimination in the South. Bates used this last conversation as her motivation for her upcoming leadership roles. Daisy Bates also attended segregated public schools, where she realized the unfair conditions that African American students underwent in comparison to their White peers, which she accredits another starting motivation for her interest in education justice for African Americans.
Shortly after Bates married L.C. Bates, a former journalist, they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where they started their first weekly newspaper, the Arkansas State Press. The paper was consistent with the advocacy journalism theme and articles centered around civil rights issues, the need for social improvement and police brutality. It went on to become the largest and most unique African-American newspaper in Arkansas, in spite of facing a large financial lost when white business owners refused to place advertisements in their paper because of its racial stance.4 Bates also joined the Little Rock NAACP Branch and became very involved, shortly after her move. She was inspired by her father to join, as he had joined his local NAACP branch when she was a child.2 As a civic and highly involved supporter of the NAACP and other organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women, YMCA and Urban League, Bates was voted president of the state conference of the organization’s Arkansas branch in 1952 when she was only 38 years old.2 As the head of the NAACP’s Arkansas branch, Daisy Bates played a huge role in contesting against segregation.
Just two years after her election as president, the United States Supreme Court ruled for racial integration in schools in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education. Although the landmark case ruled segregation unconstitutional, all-white schools, including schools in Little Rock, still refused to allow admitted African Americans students to attend. Bates began her activism by personally escorting Black students to the white public schools. In 1957, she served as an advocate and mentor to nine African American students who would become the first African American students to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock. The group of students attempted to attend on September 4th of that year but was denied admittance by a group of whites and members of the Arkansas National Guard. Bates and the group of students remained undeterred as she used her personal home as a headquarter for organizing the protest against discrimination. She organized for ministers to walk the students to “serve as powerful symbols against the bulwark of segregation."3 Bates continued with her persistence and, as a result, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened. He ordered the Arkansas National Guard to uphold the law and ensure that the court orders were enforced. With U.S. soldiers providing security, the Little Rock Nine attended their first day of Central High School on September 25th, only three weeks after their initial denied access to attend. Daisy Bates continued to mentor the Little Rock Nine and offered them continuing support in face of the harassment they received throughout their school year.4
In addition to the harassment that the Little Rock Nine experienced, Daisy Bates also faced many threats. Nevertheless, she never allowed this to be a hindrance. After her newspaper was closed in 1959, she went on to account her work for the Little Rock Nine in her published book, The Long Shadow of Little Rock. For the remainder of her career, she continued to remain active in community projects. She was endowed many awards and honors, including an honorary membership with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and an honorary doctorate from the University of Arkansas. Daisy Lee Gatson Bates served as one of the most prominent African American figures in history. Her work with the Little Rock Nine helped paved the road for all African Americans after 1957. Because of her efforts and persistence, students of color are able to pursue their educational goal.
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