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Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas

Grif Stockley
Copyright Date: 2005
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    Daisy Bates
    Book Description:

    Daisy Bates (1914-1999) is renowned as the mentor of the Little Rock Nine, the first African Americans to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For guiding the Nine through one of the most tumultuous civil rights crises of the 1950s, she was selected as Woman of the Year in Education by the Associated Press in 1957 and was the only woman invited to speak at the Lincoln Memorial ceremony in the March on Washington in 1963. But her importance as a historical figure has been overlooked by scholars of the civil rights movement.

    Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansaschronicles her life and political advocacy before, during, and well after the Central High School crisis. An orphan from the Arkansas mill town of Huttig, she eventually rose to the zenith of civil rights action. In 1952, she was elected president of the NAACP in Arkansas and traveled the country speaking on political issues. During the 1960s, she worked as a field organizer for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to get out the black vote. Even after a series of strokes, she continued to orchestrate self-help and economic initiatives in Arkansas.

    Using interviews, archival records, contemporary news-paper accounts, and other materials, author Grif Stockley reconstructs Bates's life and career, revealing her to be a complex, contrary leader of the civil rights movement. Ultimately, Daisy Bates paints a vivid portrait of an ardent, overlooked advocate of social justice.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-067-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-12)

    The richness and complexity of the men, both black and white, who marched in opposing camps during the critical period of the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s are only now being fully appreciated as scholars gain distance from that era.¹ One can almost hear the dead sighing in relief from their graves. Yet whatever their motives and the influences that shaped them, these men participated in a revolution such as the United States has never seen, before or since. In retrospect, their accomplishments were astonishing. In a matter of years, customs and laws that had endured for...

    (pp. 13-21)

    While mystery and controversy surround the early years of the life of Daisy Bates, the town of Huttig in extreme southern Arkansas had little mystery about it in 1913 for black people, the year Bates was born. In those days Huttig was no different from any other Arkansas town in its absolute commitment to white supremacy and the customs of Jim Crow. At the same time, it was a company town, owned by the Union Saw Mill Company, which started up in 1904 to harvest the shortleaf yellow pine timber that dominated the landscape of southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana....

  6. Chapter Two A MUCH OLDER MAN
    (pp. 22-31)

    After Daisy had become famous, L. C. would tell the same sly, understated story, saying that when he had first met her, “She was nothing but a kid—I wasn’t thinking about her. She later moved to Memphis. When she grew up and got a little older, she looked a little better.”¹ It always got a laugh because of her obvious beauty and possibly because of his homely features. Though only five feet eleven and 140 pounds, he appeared taller because of his cadaverous physique. Never photographed in public without his black horned-rim glasses after he came to Little Rock,...

    (pp. 32-42)

    When L. C. and Daisy arrived in Little Rock, they were virtual strangers in a city of around 100,000 inhabitants, almost a quarter of whom were black. Every community of any size in the South has always had its black elites, and Little Rock was no exception. Two of these representatives were passing their last years in the capital city just as Daisy and L. C. were arriving on the scene. Both born slaves, Charlotte Stephens and Scipio Africanus Jones had not merely survived Jim Crow, they had mastered its intricacies and taken advantage of its possibilities. With the blood...

  8. Chapter Four TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
    (pp. 43-52)

    One can see Daisy Bates maturing during the 1940s into a woman who was vitally interested in all that was going on around her and determined to be part of it. It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning years of theState Press, there is reason to believe that Daisy saw herself as more of a privileged newspaper publisher’s wife than as a working partner in the business. Lottie Neely, L. C.’s cousin and secretary at the newspaper who began work at the paper in 1941, remembered that Daisy “stayed in the bed until ten or eleven o’clock.” L....

    (pp. 53-64)

    Founded in New York by both blacks and whites in 1909, the NAACP was more than of symbolic importance to African Americans in the South during much of the Jim Crow era. The organization’s significance to blacks can hardly be overestimated. Even in places like Arkansas where the organization had few branches, blacks like Daisy Bates’s foster father counted themselves as members and sent in contributions to the national office.¹ Though in its initial years the NAACP had a reactive litigation strategy, that would change in the 1930s with the arrival of Charles Houston, an African American graduate of Harvard...

    (pp. 65-82)

    On May 17, 1954, the date of the U.S. Supreme Court decision inBrown v. Board of Education, it was likely that not a single black person in Little Rock occupied a position of authority over a white adult. White supremacy was an unquestioned fact of daily existence. This does not mean that cracks weren’t beginning to appear in the practice of segregation. To be sure, in places like Little Rock, where the population was mostly white, certain minor adjustments in the color line were already being made. Besides limited use of the public library, small numbers of blacks were...

    (pp. 83-92)

    Speaking to reporters outside of Virgil Blossom’s office, Daisy Bates said, “I think the next step is obvious. We’ve tried everything short of a court suit.”¹ The case was filed on February 8, 1956, in federal district court in Little Rock. Attorneys listed on the complaint for the plaintiffs were Wiley Branton, local counsel, and U. Simpson Tate, regional counsel of the NAACP, whose office was in Dallas, Texas. Robert L. Carter and Thurgood Marshall, who would later argue the case before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, were also listed as counsel. The class action suit was brought in...

  12. Chapter Eight TWO STEPS BACK
    (pp. 93-111)

    TheState Pressgreeted the new year of 1957 with grim determination, noting that in the state, “anti-Negro forces are organized and are gaining momentum by the day and are urged on by Arkansas’s executive head, and some of the state’s news media, and enjoy the sneaking cooperation of many of modern ‘Uncle Toms.’ ”¹ There would be no letup against Daisy and L. C. In a telegram dated January 7 to Roy Wilkins, Daisy reported that on Saturday night a crude incendiary bomb was thrown in the carport but that the wind had blown it out before it caused...

  13. Chapter Nine FRONT AND CENTER
    (pp. 112-130)

    With Judge John Miller no longer exercising authority over the proceedings in the case ofAaron v. Cooper, Orval Faubus’s victory in state court would be short-lived. Wiley Branton immediately filed a petition in federal court on behalf of the NAACP to overturn the decision, and the case was quickly assigned to Judge Ronald Davies of Fargo, North Dakota, who issued a stay and scheduled a hearing for Friday afternoon at 3:30. By the end of the day on Friday, he had issued an order enjoining interference of the plan by all involved. Finally, a federal judge had acted with...

    (pp. 131-147)

    As stressful as September 4 had been for the children and their parents, the national office of the NAACP in New York knew that what was going on in Arkansas was worth a king’s ransom in favorable publicity for the organization. No longer a dry legal battle that bored supporters even as they were implored to reach for their wallets to send in a check, the photograph of the mob hounding Elizabeth Eckford had seared into the consciousness of the outside world what the NAACP was fighting for and against.

    Though Daisy Bates was proving herself to be an ideal...

  15. Chapter Eleven A BATTLE EVERY DAY
    (pp. 148-159)

    The United States’ enemies were having a field day. Communists had always been able to score points in the running worldwide propaganda war: the U.S. government’s acceptance of the white South’s “way of life” represented unmitigated hypocrisy. After September 4 and after the photographs of Elizabeth Eckford being harassed by the mob had gone around the world, Little Rock had become a major foreign policy sore spot. With the debacle on September 23, there was no doubt who had won a major battle. Did mobs rule in the United States, or did the federal government?

    Before the morning of September...

  16. Chapter Twelve WOMAN OF THE YEAR
    (pp. 160-172)

    On October 31 Clarence Laws continued his almost daily conversations with Gloster Current. Laws told Current he had attended a committee meeting of the Little Rock NAACP branch two days earlier, at which time the Lorches’ name came up. Two members had wanted to pass a resolution commending the Lorches. Laws was horrified. He said “definitely not.” On the other hand they should not be asked to withdraw from the NAACP either because, as Laws explained, “that wouldn’t be well because Dr. Lorch has friends there.”¹ The “problem,” Laws explained, could be taken care of at next month’s election. Clearly,...

  17. Chapter Thirteen HOLDING THE LINE
    (pp. 173-190)

    A new organization called the Greater Little Rock Improvement League appeared on January 9. Headed by Rev. Oliver W. Gibson, it proposed “a more moderate stand” than that taken by the NAACP. Bates went to see what it was all about. TheArkansas Gazettereported the group stood for resolving racial differences without going to court. Bates was invited to speak and told them, “When we go into court we are fighting for the dignity of man. I am sure that is what you will be fighting for in your new organization.”¹ She obviously was not worried by them. The...

  18. Chapter Fourteen COPING WITH DEFEAT
    (pp. 191-209)

    As the calendar turned over to 1959, Daisy Bates may have guessed what a fateful year it was to be for her and L. C. On January 29 she wrote Roy Wilkins that she would be in New York on “February 1, to address the Great Neck Branch. I will leave for Lakeville, [Conn.,] Monday. I plan to drop by the office Monday morning, and if it is at all possible, I would like to see you for a few minutes.”¹ What Bates wanted to say in private to Wilkins is not known. Most likely, it was about money. Though...

  19. Chapter Fifteen THE NEW YORK YEARS
    (pp. 210-232)

    When black college and high school students in larger cities in the South began peaceful demonstrations in February 1960 at whites-only lunch counters, the civil rights movement entered an important new phase. A younger generation of African Americans who would not be intimidated by centuries-old white supremacy seemed to come into being from out of nowhere. Where did these idealistic young people come from, and who motivated them to confront white supremacy directly when their parents could not?

    Daisy Bates’s Emancipation Day appearance at the Second Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on January 1, 1960, may have seemed like a...

    (pp. 233-246)

    As the civil rights movement picked up steam, it would become more apparent that the differences between Daisy and L. C. were widening. First, there was the fact of their physical separation. In November 1961 L. C. was assigned to work in Louisiana for “at least the next six months.”¹ His year-end report in December 1961 offers a glimpse into his conservatism. Writing in the third person, he noted that “the Secretary has not been involved with Sit-Ins or Demonstrations this year. There has been only one attempt to sit in this year and it was poorly planned by a...

  21. Chapter Seventeen THE LONG SHADOW OF LITTLE ROCK
    (pp. 247-258)

    The national backdrop of the publication ofThe Long Shadow of Little Rockin 1962 was the violent confrontation between the Kennedy administration and Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi. The battle on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford over James Meredith’s admission into law school in the fall of 1962 made the crisis at Central High seem tame by comparison. Though the civil rights movement had moved well on down the road, with history being repeated so recently,The Long Shadow of Little Rock’s publication date of October 29 helped convince reviewers of its relevance. Bates’s sketchy and vague...

    (pp. 259-279)

    It does not appear that Bates’s health allowed her to return to work for the national NAACP in 1965, but she was strong enough to do what she most enjoyed, and that was work with black youngsters. By June 1966, through her influence and dedication, the NAACP Youth Council flourished in Little Rock, growing to about 137 members.

    Unfortunately, early on in 1966 it was becoming apparent that L. C. was having major conflict in his role as field secretary with Dr. Jerry Jewell, a Little Rock dentist who had succeeded George Howard as Arkansas president of the State Conference...

  23. Chapter Nineteen FIGHTING OVER A LEGEND
    (pp. 280-297)

    During the years that Daisy Bates spent in Mitchellville, a profound change was occurring in Arkansas politics, as it was throughout the South. It wasn’t just the politics of expediency that produced a new breed of Arkansas Democrats in the late 1960s who turned their backs on white supremacy as a governing principle. The civil rights movement had a cumulative effect that today is taken for granted. Thanks to the success of Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, the politics of racial inclusion was now acceptable. It was a moment in Arkansas like no other. Democratic racial progressives such as Dale Bumpers and...

  24. NOTES
    (pp. 298-334)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 335-340)