Friday, February 11, 2011

Black History Month Spotlight: Daisy Bates

Civil rights activist, writer, publisher. Born Daisy Lee Gatson on November 11, 1914, in Huttig, Arkansas. Together with her husband, Bates operated the Arkansas State Press, a weekly African-American newspaper. The paper championed civil rights, and Bates joined in the civil rights movement. She became the president of Arkansas of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1952. As the head of the NAACP’s Arkansas branch, Bates played a crucial role in the fight against segregation. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared that school segregation was unconstitutional in the landmark case known as Brown v. Board of Education. Even after that ruling, African American students who tried to enroll in white schools were turned away in Arkansas. Bates and her husband chronicled this battle in their newspaper. In 1957, she helped nine African American students to become the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, who became known as the Little Rock Nine. Bates’ home became the headquarters for the battle to integrate Central High School and she served as a personal advocate and supporter to the students. Bates remained close with the Little Rock Nine, offering her continuing support as they faced harassment and intimidation from people against desegregation. Her account of the school integration battle was published as The Long Shadow of Little Rock. For a few years, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the Democratic National Committee and on antipoverty projects for the Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. Bates returned to Little Rock in the mid-1960s and spent much of her time on community programs. Bates died on November 4, 1999, Little Rock, Arkansas.

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