What Is the Significance of the Little Rock Nine?

The Little Rock Nine were significant as symbols of the difference between the changing federal laws concerning segregation in the 1950s and opposing public sentiment about the laws in the deep South. Widespread media coverage of their treatment led to public awareness of the problem of segregation and eventual profound change in the school systems.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, all laws establishing segregation in schools became unconstitutional. The school board of Little Rock, Arkansas, agreed to comply with the ruling, and in 1957, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) registered nine black students in previously all-white Little Rock Central High School. On September 4, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists and prevent the black students from entering the school.

In response, President Dwight Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army into Little Rock to protect the so-called Little Rock Nine and take over the Arkansas National Guard. Under the army’s protection, the nine black students were admitted into Little Rock Central High; however, over the course of the year, they were persecuted and abused by many of the white students. In the summer of 1958, Governor Faubus lost an appeal to a federal court to delay desegregation for two and a half years. In retaliation, he closed down all the public high schools in the city. This year of school closure led to further ill will between the city’s white and black communities.

On November 9, 1999, the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 2007, the U.S. Mint created a commemorative silver dollar in honor of their courage.