The 2012 honorees represent key actors in the desegregation of Central High School, an event that drew national and international attention to Little Rock in September 1957.
The Little Rock Nine—Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrance Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls—were the first students to desegregate Central High School in September 1957. After Gov. Orval Faubus initially sought to block their entry to the school by using the National Guard, they eventually entered Central High School with an escort of federal troops sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Daisy Bates was mentor to the Little Rock Nine throughout their ordeal, as president of the Arkansas State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches. Bates co-owned Little Rock’s Arkansas State Press black newspaper with her husband L.C. Bates. The couple was victimized because of their support for school desegregation. Their home was attacked on a number of occasions and a boycott by segregationists put their newspaper out of business. Attorney Chris Mercer was a local NAACP assistant to Daisy Bates throughout the school crisis. He was also one of the first “six pioneers” to desegregate the University of Arkansas Law School in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was mentor to the Little Rock Nine during the desegregation of Central High School. Born in Huttig, Arkansas, she moved to Little Rock in 1941 with her future husband L. C. Bates. The couple owned and operated the state’s foremost African American newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, from 1941 through 1959. In 1952, Daisy Bates became president of the Arkansas State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches. In that capacity, she advocated for the swift implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.
Lucious Christopher (“L.C.”) Bates was born in Liberty, Mississippi. Bates worked on numerous newspapers and as a travelling insurance salesman before he and his future wife Daisy Bates moved to Little Rock in 1941 where they co-owned and operated the Arkansas State Press newspaper. In his editorials and as an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Bates was a vocal advocate for civil rights. The Bateses home in Little Rock became headquarters for the Little Rock Nine and the NAACP during the desegregation of Central High School.
Melba Pattillo Beals was born in Little Rock on December 7, 1941, to Howell and Lois Marie Pattilo. She had one brother, Conrad. Her mother was one of the first black graduates of the University of Arkansas in 1954 and was a high school English teacher at the time of the desegregation of Central High School. Her father worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The family lived with Melba’s grandmother, India Peyton.
Elizabeth Ann Eckford one of the Little Rock Nine, was born in Little Rock on October 4, 1941, to Oscar and Birdie Eckford, and is one of six children. Her father worked nights as a dining car maintenance worker for the Missouri Pacific Railroad’s Little Rock station and her mother taught at the segregated state school for blind and deaf children instructing students how to wash and iron.
Ernest Gideon Green was the only senior of the Little Rock Nine and became the first African American to graduate from Central High School in May 1958. He was born in Little Rock on September 22, 1941, to Ernest, Sr., and Lothaire Green, and has two siblings, one brother, Scott, and one sister, Treopia Washington. His father (who passed away four years before the desegregation of Central High) was a post office worker and his mother was an elementary school teacher.
Gloria Cecelia Ray Karlmark was born in Little Rock on September 26, 1942, to Harvey C. and Julia Miller Ray and was one of the three children. By the time Ray entered Central High, her father was retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he had founded the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service for Negroes. Her mother was a sociologist working for the state of Arkansas.
Carlotta Walls LaNier was the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine. She was born in Little Rock on December 18, 1942, to Cartelyou and Juanita Walls. Her father was a brick mason and a World War II veteran and her mother was a secretary in the Office of Public Housing.
Christopher Coloumbus Mercer Jr. was an NAACP attorney and field secretary, and adviser to Daisy Bates during the desegregation of Central High School. For their first semester at Central High, Mercer drove the Little Rock Nine to and from school. Earlier, Mercer had been one of the “Six Pioneers,” the first group of African Americans to desegregate the University of Arkansas.
Terrence James Roberts one of the Little Rock Nine, was born in Little Rock on December 3, 1941, to William and Margaret Roberts, and was the eldest of seven children. His father was a World War II naval veteran who worked at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in North Little Rock and his mother ran a catering service from home.
Jefferson Allison Thomas one of the Little Rock Nine, was born in Little Rock on September 19, 1942, to Ellis and Jessie Thomas, and was the youngest of seven children. His father was a farm equipment salesman and his mother was a nurse’s aide at a private hospital.
Minnijean Brown Trickey one of the Little Rock Nine, was born in Little Rock on September 11, 1941, to Willie and Imogene Brown and was the eldest of four children. Her father was an independent mason and landscaping contractor and her mother was a homemaker and nurse’s aid during the desegregation of Central High School.
Thelma Jean Mothershed Wair was born in Bloomberg, Texas, on November 29, 1940, to Arlevis Leander Mothershed and Hosanna Claire Moore Mothershed. She has three sisters and two brothers. Her father was a psychiatric aid at the Veterans Administration hospital in North Little Rock and her mother was a homemaker.
Thank you to our event sponsors for 2012: Arkansas State Representative Darrin L. Williams; City of Little Rock; Clinton Foundation; Dorothy Morris and Morris Foundation; East Harding Construction; Just Communities of Arkansas; Law Office of Danyelle Walker PLLC; Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C.; UALR William H. Bowen School of Law; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; W. Harold Flowers Law Society.
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