Little Rock Look Back: September 12, 1958–a day of educational chaos in Little Rock

Thurgood Marshall, of the NAACP, sits on the steps of the Supreme Court Building after he filed an appeal in the integration case of Little Rock’s Central High School. (AP Photo, file)

The Court found that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution” and all state officials must adhere to the Court’s decisions and follow the rules laid down in those decisions in similar future cases.

Following the decision, the Little Rock School Board issued a statement that the schools would open as planned on Monday, September 15, 1958.  One of the School Board members, Henry V. Rath, resigned his position on the board that day. He was frustrated that the School Board was caught between federal law and state law.

Later that afternoon, Governor Faubus signed several bills into law which had been passed in a special session. These bills were designed to make it more difficult to integrate public schools.  One of them gave the Governor the authority to temporarily close schools to keep them segregated.  The Governor would then call a special election for the voters in that district to decide whether to remain closed or be opened and integrated. (One of the other laws, which would come in to play later during the school year, laid out the plans for a recall of school board members.)

Shortly after signing the law which gave him the authority to close the schools, Governor Faubus did just that.  He announced that Little Rock’s four public high schools would not open on Monday, September 15.  He set October 7 as the date for the special election about keeping the schools closed.

No one seemed to know what the next steps were.

That night, high school football took place, as previously scheduled.  Central came from behind to defeat West Monroe, Louisiana, by a score of 20 to 14.

Over the weekend, there were many meetings and phone conversations as people were trying to figure out what to do.

One meeting that took place on September 12 was at the home of Mrs. Adolphine Fletcher Terry.  She invited a few friends over to discuss what role the women of the city could play in solving this crisis.  The group decided to meet on the following Tuesday, September 16, at Terry’s house.  It would eventually grow to over 1,300 members and have the name of Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Public Schools.

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Little Rock Look Back: US Supreme Court announces Cooper v. Aaron decision

Thurgood Marshall, of the NAACP, sits on the steps of the Supreme Court Building after he filed an appeal in the integration case of Little Rock’s Central High School. The students are, from left: Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, escort Daisy Bates, Marshall, Carlotta Walls, Minnijean Brown, and Elizabeth Eckford. (AP Photo, file)

On September 29, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Cooper v. Aaron. That decision held that Little Rock public officials were required to implement a desegregation plan in compliance with the Brown v. Board decision.

The Court found that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution” and all state officials must adhere to the Court’s decisions and follow the rules laid down in those decisions in similar future cases.

The genesis for the Cooper v. Aaron court case was the Little Rock School Board seeking a delay in further implementation of the plan to integrate schools.

After the events of 1957-1958, the School Board was reluctant to have another year of integration, even if it were severely limited. The school board caved to this political pressure, filing a request for a two-and-a-half-year delay in implementing desegregation. The district court granted the request, but the court of appeals reversed. Chief Justice Earl Warren called a Special Term of the Supreme Court into session to consider the case. The stage was set for Cooper v. Aaron.

In their decision, the Warren Court made it clear that resistance to Brown would not be tolerated. The Court went on to state that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the Constitution” and “the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land.”