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Little Rock and Integration


The Supreme Court did not intend to end racial segregation by soldiers brandishing bayonets in the face of the South. The May 1954 decision was "moderate" leaving implementation of the Court's order to local courts which were to approve timetables for gradual, peaceful, and orderly integration.

In Little Rock, such a moderate plan was developed. The local school board decided to admit a small number of selected Negroes into a metropolitan high school of 2000 students. Local courts approved the plan, and the wisdom of the Supreme Court seemed vindicated.

But the unforeseen actions of Governor Orval Faubus and a small group of racist agitators subverted the integration of Central High School. Faced with violence and blatant disregard for the law, the federal government adopted the use of armed troops to enforce the Court's historic decision.

It is difficult to see that the Administration could have acted otherwise. With a different combination of circumstances, the necessity for force might have been averted, but without the 101st Airborne Division in Little Rock, integration would not be a fact today. Even more important, a mob would have succeeded in mocking the highest law of the United States.

But what will happen when troops are removed? This is not an easy question, although the majority of citizens can probably be expected to accept integration as a small price for civil order. Arkansans are not, for the most part, rabid segregationists, and even those who strongly disapprove of the Court's decision are generally unwilling to become revolutionaries.

The larger question is, however, what the experience of Little Rock means for the whole South, especially the crucial states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The government's action could deter active resistance, or it could spur segregationists to even more uncompromising positions.

It would seem plausible that many peaceful and law-abiding citizens throughout the Deep South will take Arkansas as a lesson to be learned. Certainly, respected Southern governors such as Hodge of North Carolina and Collins of Florida have already seen the futility of all-out opposition and the necessity of submission. Viewed from this perspective, Little Rock may have served as to discourage false hopes of postponing integration to the millenium.

Two groups exist in the South which obviate the value of reasonable, planned action. There are politicians, large and small, who will not hesitate to exploit the race issue. Governor Faubus is the archetype of political charlatans today, although he will be a second-string hack compared with the Talmadges, Timmermans, and Big Jim Folsoms.

Added to the number of political opportunists, there is a sizable group of people who will fight to prevent integration. Sincere in their beliefs, they are generally ignorant, poor, and not unacquainted with violence. Unknowing victims of political exploitation, these persons create demagogues and support them.

The federal government is undoubtedly well-aware of both groups, but it could be easy to suppose on the basis of Little Rock that their bark was worse than their bite. The decision to use troops in Arkansas was probably a pragmatic approach to a particular situation which demanded forceful and unequivocal action. Yet it would be dangerously easy to generalize a policy of armed force to effect integration.

The fact of the matter is that the federal government has little immediate control over what will occur in a particular state. The NAACP can bring suit in Mississippi as well as in Arkansas, and when a court orders integration, the government has no alternative but to enforce the order if it is flouted. It is possible, indeed probable, that situations such as the present one will arise where the use of force will be necessary. And in some of these instances, the few outbreaks of violence which occurred in Little Rock may appear like an in significant skirmish before a battle of major proportions.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that groups seeking immediate integration will exercise patience and forbearance in Deep South areas. If a calm approach to the problems of integration can be realized, and if false hopes are not put in the Army as they were in "moderation," a major outbreak of violence and lawlessness may be prevented.

The primary lesson of the Little Rock crisis has been to discourage easy optimism. Integration by moderate means is very improbable except in a few areas. In Arkansas it would seem that a moderate plan was effected, but by highly immoderate means. Deplorable as it is, force is an element which will probably not be absent from successful attempts at integration. Hopes that the South will voluntarily "come around" are largely illusions. The South will submit, but if men like Faubus are its leaders, only when confronted with the choice between integration and resistance against the United States Army.

Even then, the presence of armed troops will not insure passive acceptance of integration in many areas. Integration was achieved in Little Rock with only a few lacerations. Many cities will not be so fortunate. It is nevertheless possible to hope that with forbearance, careful planning, and painstaking court litigation on the part of those urging integration, the tragedy of civil violence can be kept to a minimum, while the law of the land is still upheld.

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