Guardians of Freedom: 50th Anniversary of Operation Arkansas

Monday September 24, 2007

Fifty years ago today, the Army, helped to usher in a new era for civil rights. In a time of inner turmoil for the United States, the Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division had the tremendous task of keeping peace in their own country. They stood guard and protected nine young African-Americans so that they could enjoy the rights promised to all U.S. citizens. The unit was able to complete their mission without injury to the students, citizens or themselves.

On Sept. 24, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10730. The order federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered the Secretary of Defense to employ the Arkansas Soldiers as well as federal troops to enforce a federal district court order in Little Rock, Ark. Within hours, 1,000 Soldiers of the 327th Airborne Battle Group of the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Little Rock from their base in Kentucky.

The following morning, troops from the 327th surrounded Little Rock Central High School while a small detachment went to pick up nine neatly-dressed black teenagers. After a short drive, the Soldiers and their charges reached the school. Staring straight ahead, the youngsters formed a single file. Surrounded by some of America's best Soldiers carrying rifles with bayonets fixed, they marched through a jeering crowd into the school to begin the fall term after two previous failed attempts. As the nation and much of the world watched, Central High School became desegregated. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which mandates that no American will be deprived of the equal protection of the laws, had been upheld.

In recognition of this significant event, and to honor the nine Arkansans who fought for equality and justice, the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission is planning a number of commemorative events for late September 2007. The activities will culminate with a ceremony on the front lawn of Central High School on Sept. 25.

This was a tremendous mission that speaks of our nation's civil rights history and strength and character of the Army Soldier. To learn more about Operation Arkansas and the events celebrating its anniversary visit


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"They [the founders] proclaimed to all the world the revolutionary doctrine of the divine rights of the common man. That doctrine has ever since been the heart of the American faith." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th U.S. President.


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