As school began in Little Rock, Ark., 50 years ago, the bravery of nine young African-American students changed U.S. history. Sadly, the current state of racial diversity in public education is again under attack, making it even more important to celebrate the courage of the Little Rock Nine.
Here are their names: Daisy Bates, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.
Three years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision ordered the integration of public schools, Arkansas, a southern state with a Jim Crow legacy, was finally desegregating its schools, including Central High School.
At the time, the high school had more than 1,900 students, all white. The city had delayed the school's integration after white parents had obtained a state court injunction that prevented black students from attending Central High. But a federal judge lifted the injunction.
Still, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus refused to obey the court order, calling in 270 members of the Arkansas National Guard to the school on Sept. 3, 1957. The following day, the guardsmen turned the nine students away. What's worse, an angry mob met them at the school.
The issue was at a standstill for several weeks, and Americans across the country were horrified at the images of hatred they saw in their national papers and on television.
Woodrow Mann, mayor of Little Rock at the time, showed courage when he called President Dwight Eisenhower to ask for help. Eisenhower, a war hero, fortunately made the right moves.
He not only ordered federal troops to escort the students into school, but he also federalized the Arkansas National Guard, placing them under his command.
The Little Rock Nine began receiving a military escort as they entered school and attended their classes in late September 1957. Their military escort was diminished gradually and was soon unnecessary by November.
Today, some school districts in the United States are experiencing resegregation as a result of "white flight" to the suburbs and segregated housing patterns.
Making matters worse, a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer ended voluntary racial diversity programs in the public schools in Louisville and Seattle. With its controversial decision, the high court essentially sided with
Gov. Faubus -- not the Little Rock Nine. That's how backward the decision was.
Half a century ago, nine courageous, young African-Americans stepped into history and made us all proud. But this spring, five of the nine Supreme Court justices rolled back the clocks.
For the sake of the Little Rock Nine and for the sake of racial justice and equality, we must continue to fight for equal education for all children in this country, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Brian Gilmore, a poet and lawyer, teaches in the Clinical Law Center at the Howard University School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.