Daisy Gatson Bates was a well-known activist for civil rights in the African American community by the time the U.S. Supreme Court passed Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas; officially declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. She and her husband were very active in the NAACP and ran a newspaper, The Arkansas State Press, which primarily focused on civil rights issues in the black community.
She was named president of the Arkansas Conference of Branches, the umbrella organization for the NAACP in Arkansas in 1952. Bates became a key player in the Aaron v. Cooper case in which African American children sued the Little Rock School District for not allowing them to attend then all white schools. This case set the stage for the eventual desegregation of Central High School.
During the Central High crisis, Bates was a mentor to the Little Rock Nine. She became known as the principal spokesperson and leader for the movement to desegregate Central High School. In the process she was recognized throughout the state and nation as a fervent advocate for civil rights.
She and her husband, L.C. Bates, the Little Rock Nine, and their families endured threats and harassment during the school year. She continued her efforts despite the intimidation tactics. Bates was recognized by Associated Press in 1957 as the Woman of the Year in Education and served on the national board of the NAACP periodically through 1970.
On February 19, 2001, Arkansas became the first state to honor an African American woman with a state holiday when it made the third Monday in February of every year (the same day as President’s Day) Daisy Gatson Bates Day.
Bates, Daisy. The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
Beals, Melba Pattillo. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High. New York: Washington Square Books, 1994.
La Cruise, Sharon. Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock. Independent Lens. 2012. DVD.
Stockely, Grif. Bates, Daisy Lee Gatson. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=591.
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