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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daisy Bates, October 11, 1976. Interview G-0009. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desegregating Little Rock school

Bates recalls her frustration with every aspect of segregation, and her effort, as president of her local NAACP chapter, to dismantle the entire system. Her focus shifted to education after the 1954 <cite>Brown</cite> decision, and she remembers the emergence of the Little Rock Nine and approaching the school with them on the day they were supposed to enter it.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daisy Bates, October 11, 1976. Interview G-0009. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Okay, what kinds of issues was the state branch of the NAACP involved in before the Little Rock crisis? What kinds of things were you active in trying to change?
DAISY BATES:
The whole darned system.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
It seems like there was so much that needed to be done; how did you know . . .
DAISY BATES:
Oh, everything needed change then. See, the Negroes were segregated all over.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Completely.
DAISY BATES:
And even the kids. Some of the downtown stores had a black fountain and a white fountain.I had no children. But I worked with the children, because I had the paper. And the mothers that would unknown be going to town, and they were walking to town, they would stop at the State Press to use the bathroom, because there was no place downtown that they could use the bathroom. What do you do when a child wants to go to the bathroom? See, you never faced. . . . You never had to face that.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
No, mnm-mm.
DAISY BATES:
Well, you know, this was just. . . . I got angry.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Oh, yeah.
DAISY BATES:
About this kind of thing.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Well, how did you decide what to concentrate your energies on?
DAISY BATES:
We concentrated, I think, on everything. This was across the board. Wherever we could, we hit it. It was no special thing, but everything, the whole system.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
But then when the Brown decision was handed down, all of your energies began to be focused, really, on education.
DAISY BATES:
Yeah. See, after the Brown decision, then the kids who were Negro. . . . They sent around forms to the schools. Mr. Blossom2 and the teachers passed the ballot. And they found that they had too many kids. n2 And meanwhile, Mr. Blossom sent these papers out to the schools, the last day of school, to get a determination of how many children planned to go to Central that following year, the following September.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
This was in 1956?
DAISY BATES:
This was in 1957.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
In the spring of '57.
DAISY BATES:
In the spring. So unknown the first day they got a hundred applications back.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
From black students, mm-hm.
DAISY BATES:
Well, a hundred students the first day, and then another hundred the following week.Then they called those students in and told them they would have to come in and bring their parents and talk to himSo some of the parents went, but that meant that the husband had to get off from work, lose a whole day, to go to the school. He didn't see why that was necessary. I didn't see why it was necessary. So nevertheless, a lot of the parents went with their children to the schools and they talked to the Superintendent. Meanwhile they started coming back. That was the whole idea, that they eliminate as many as they possibly could. I have pictures of some of the kids I had. So finally it got down to nine. And the kids, after they'd go to the Superintendent's Office, they would come back and tell me what was going on, what he said. So it got down to nine, and I got the names of kids that he had not interviewed, and I talked to them before. When they went down there, they knew what to say and what not to say. They were going to go to that school; they weren't going to let anything change them. So about nine came out. He was going to admit one of the nine.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Oh, my word.
DAISY BATES:
And she was as light as you are.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Oh, no.
DAISY BATES:
That was Carlotta Walls. And so if Carlotta got in, nobody would know if she was white or black.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes.
DAISY BATES:
And so one of the girls lived very close to Central. unknown She was dark. Well, she was a pretty little dark girl. She was "too pretty."
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Too pretty?!
DAISY BATES:
She was "too pretty" to be admitted. I mean, he couldn't find anything in her background. She had excellent grades; she'd never had a fight unknown in school. Her teachers all gave her an excellent record. unknown So therefore, the only thing that he could give, reason, was that she was "too pretty."
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Is that what he said?
DAISY BATES:
They'd actually told her that, and that the boys would be looking at her, and that they unknown would be attracted.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Oh, no. Now this was in the summer before school started.
DAISY BATES:
Before school started.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Well, how did they finally settle on the nine?
DAISY BATES:
They didn't settle on the nine; the nine settled themselves unknown After they got down that far, and we had a whole bunch of women go over to school to talk. unknown After the reporters were there, and there was so much to do, and I told the other kids, I said, "Let's go back over there to school." (Laughs) unknown . I said, "So go on back there and let me work with these." But they didn't want the nine. Harry Ashmore told me, he said (we had talked over the thing) , he said, "Daisy, you keep fighting for the nine. If you get one or two in there this year, one or two." I said, "Harry, what the hell is going to happen to the rest of the kids?"
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
You and Harry Ashmore were always friends?
DAISY BATES:
Yes. So in the meanwhile, he called the nine, and he admitted the nine in. And the day before they were starting to school, he told them that he—it was Mr. Blossom, the Superintendent at that time—that they were to go in the front door. unknown But meantime, we had a lot of litigation going on; Judge Davies had come down3 unknown . And we went to the school the first time. And n3 Faubus had the National guard around. Well, Faubus had to tell us. . . . The National guard had to tell us, say to us that they couldn't admit them because of the Governor's orders.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
You made them say that.
DAISY BATES:
That's right. But I had Thurgood's advice to get them to tell us that. unknown And we all heard that unknown , so . . .
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
You walked up to the National Guards.
DAISY BATES:
We walked up to them.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
And you were in the group that walked up to the National Guards.
DAISY BATES:
Walked to the guards. And they said that was the reason why they couldn't admit them, because the Governor had. . . . unknown And the night the Governor surrounded the school with the troops, I called Thurgood Marshall, and I said, "Thurgood," I told him what had happened, unknown that the Governor had surrounded the school. He said, "What are they there for?" That first time I said, "I don't know."
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Nobody knew.
DAISY BATES:
"I don't know whether they're there to protect us or to deny us." He said, "I can't go into Court with ‘I don't know’, Daisy." unknown He said, "The man has to say that ‘I am here to deny you, based on what the Governor told me.' "
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
So that's what you got the guards to say.
DAISY BATES:
That's what we had the guards say.