By Capt. Chris HeathscottFebruary 27, 2007
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (2/26/2007) - In partnership with the City of Little Rock's Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission, a crowd of Guardsmen gathered Tuesday, Feb. 21, in celebration of Black History Month. The agenda for the program offered a look back to 50 years prior, when the Arkansas Guard was called to state active duty as a result of the Federal District Court ordering the Little Rock School District to proceed with plans for integration.
On Sept. 2, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to Little Rock Central High School because he claimed evidence "that there is imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace and the doing of violence to persons and property."
According to a history of the Arkansas National Guard, a force of 280 Soldiers created a perimeter around the school, refusing entry to nine African American students, telling them to return home. The events eventually led up to the federalization of the entire Arkansas National Guard by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. By order of the president, the Guard was now directed to support the integration rather than block it as was directed by the state.
During Tuesday's program, Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, the adjutant general of the Arkansas, spoke to those in attendance, and offered a reading of an annex to operation order number one that called the Guard to duty.
"Our mission is to enforce the orders of the Federal Court with respect to the attendance at the public schools of Little Rock, of all those who are properly enrolled and to maintain law and order while doing so," he read to the crowd. "Our individual feelings toward those court orders should have no influence on our execution of the mission."
Wofford, who was eight years old during the crisis, reemphasized the last sentence he had just read.
"Our personal feelings have no influence on the execution of the mission," he said, stressing the role of a Soldier. "That's the way it was in 1957, that's the way it is today."
Wofford expressed his initial reluctance to speak on a topic that he considered "a blemish on the history and reputation of the state of Arkansas," yet expressed the significance of the event with great respect.
"This was a monumental event in the history of our state," said the general. "There were nine young men and women brave enough to stand up to their fears. It changed the world. Their actions changed Arkansas."
The president of the Little Rock Central High School Student Body, Brandon Love, stepped up to the podium next as the program's guest speaker.
In a written parallel to Charles Dickens' book A Tale of Two Cities, Love stood before the crowd and presented his story referencing the continuing challenge of racism. Love's version of Dickens' tale, A Tale of Two Centrals, described the continuing separation between black and white America.
"The world watched nine African American students make history by desegregating the state's premiere high school in the face of open hostility," Love said as he spoke the words he wrote in a test for college entry into Vanderbilt University. "Escorted by the National Guard, these students walked the halls of what is now a national historic site and endured hardships that I can only begin to imagine. Today I walk the same halls walked by the Little Rock Nine."
Love went on to describe the day to day racial challenges of current day Little Rock Central...challenges which unfortunately are not housed solely within the walls of this infamous schoolhouse. Just as obstacles faced by the Little Rock Nine were met by changes in the late 50's, Love's story described how he overcame the often ignored racial challenges and separations of today to gain a good education from a great institution.
"I can honestly say. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times," said Love.