On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools were “inherently unequal” and ordered that U.S. public schools be desegregated “with all deliberate speed.” Within a week of the 1954 decision, Arkansas was one of two Southern states to announce it would begin immediately to take steps to comply with the Brown decision. Arkansas’s law school had been integrated since 1949, and seven of its eight state universities had desegregated. Blacks had been appointed to state boards and elected to local offices. It had already desegregated its public buses as well as its zoo, library, and parks system. In the summer of 1957, the city of Little Rock made plans to desegregate its public schools. Little Rock’s school board had voted unanimously for a plan that started with the desegregation of the high school in 1957, followed by junior high schools the next year and elementary schools following. In September 1957, nine African American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock. The ensuing struggle between segregationists and integrationists, the Governor of the State of Arkansas and the Federal Government, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus became known as the “Little Rock Crisis.”
On September 2, the night before school was to start, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the state’s National Guard to surround Little Rock Central High School and prevent any black students from entering. The Governor explained that his action was taken to protect citizens and property from possible violence by protesters he claimed were headed in caravans toward Little Rock. President Eisenhower, who was vacationing in Newport, RI, arranged to meet Governor Faubus to discuss the tense situation. In their brief meeting in Newport, Eisenhower thought Faubus had agreed to enroll the African American students, so he told Faubus that his National Guard troops could stay at Central High and enforce order. However, once back in Little Rock, Governor Faubus withdrew the National Guard.
A few days later, when nine African American students slipped into the school to enroll, a full-scale riot erupted. The situation was quickly out of control, as Governor Faubus failed to stop the violence. Finally, Congressman Brooks Hays and Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann asked the Federal Government for help, first in the form of U.S. marshals. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, was presented with a difficult problem. He was required to uphold the Constitution and the laws, but he also wanted to avoid a bloody confrontation in Arkansas. With Executive Order 10730, the President placed the Arkansas National Guard under Federal control and sent 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to assist them in restoring order in Little Rock.