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Civil Rights - September 22, 2017

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort the Little Rock Nine students into the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark, 1957. (Photo Courtesy of National Archives)

Q: Sixty years ago this week, President Dwight Eisenhower - the state's favorite son - sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce school desegregation. These weren't just any federal troops, they were elite army soldiers from a famous division. Name the division.

A: The 101st Airborne Division
Orval Faubus, the Democratic governor of Arkansas, was a segregationist who wanted to keep black school children out of Little Rock's all-white schools. He even positioned the Arkansas National Guard at the entrance to Little Rock's Central High School to prevent nine black children - the so-called "Little Rock Nine" - from entering. Faubus took this action despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled three years earlier that segregation was unconstitutional. 
President Dwight Eisenhower (who grew up in Abilene, Kansas!), tried to reason with Governor Faubus in person and thought he had secured the governor's promise that the "Little Rock Nine" would be allowed to attend school. But that didn't happen. And Ike got angry. So, he signed Executive Order 10730, which resulted in sending federal troops to Little Rock to enforce the Supreme Court's order for schools to desegregate. But Eisenhower didn't just send any federal troops. He sent 1,000 soldiers from the army's 101st Airborne Division, an elite paratrooper unit that had become famous for fighting Nazis in World War II. Ike also federalized the Arkansas National Guard, effectively removing those soldiers from the governor's control.  
The "Little Rock Nine" were finally allowed to attend the previously all-white school. The 101st Airborne remained for eight weeks. Ike's action didn't end racism in Arkansas. The "Little Rock Nine" were still harassed and taunted by other kids. But Ike's action did mark the beginning of the end for segregation in the Deep South.

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