If Ike, Little Rock and September are considered, it is usually in reference to his role in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High in September 1957. But five years earlier, he appeared in Little Rock on September 3, 1952.
General Eisenhower’s speech to 14,000 in MacArthur Park was the final leg in his swing through the South on his campaign for the White House. He became the third presidential candidate to visit MacArthur Park in 1952 following General MacArthur (in his ill-fated attempt to gain traction as a GOP candidate during the delegate selection process) and Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson.
He visited every southern state except Mississippi on this campaign jaunt. In comments that neither he nor his audience could have foreseen as prescient, Eisenhower declared that he deplored the government meddling in areas in which it did not belong. This remark was made in reference to race relations. His stance was that some rights of minorities should be protected, but it was not necessarily the role of the federal government.
Ike proffered that if white southerners did not protect the rights of African Americans they were in danger of losing their own rights, too. In the era of the Cold War when people were worried about the imminent loss of rights, this message seems to have crafted to appeal to those concerns. While Eisenhower did not shy away from addressing civil rights, his Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson was silent on the issue. But with Alabama segregationist Senator John Sparkman as his running mate, it put Stevenson in a difficult position to try to bring it up.
In the end, Ike lost most of the South. He did carry Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. The only states Stevenson won were in the South. Eisenhower’s 43.74% of the Arkansas popular vote was the highest any Republican had garnered since General Grant carried the state in 1868 and 1872.
The number of votes Ike received in 1952 prompted Adlai Stevenson to come to Little Rock in 1956 – the first time a Democratic nominee had come to solidly Democratic Little Rock since the 1920s.