theGrio Reflects: What it took to integrate Central High School

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

In 1957, the campus of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, became a battleground in the fight for school desegregation.

Crowds greeted nine black students, six girls and three boys, to school in September with chants of, “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate!”

These students became forever known as “the Little Rock nine.” On September 2nd of that year, days before Central High was to be integrated, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas ordered National Guardsmen to surround the school. Their orders: to only let the white students in.

“I acted to protect the persons and property of the people of Little Rock,” Faubus said on September 9th.

Faubus was defying a Supreme Court decision which required desegregation of schools. A judge later ruled that Faubus used the troops to prevent integration, not to preserve law and order as he had claimed. To avoid any further violence and to enforce the law, President Eisenhower sent in troops of his own.

“I have today issued an executive order directing the use of troops under a federal authority to aid in the execution of federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas,” Eisenhower said.

Escorted by the 101st Airborne Division, these nine students faced jeering crowds and racial slurs as they walked through the doors of Central High.

“When they marched up the steps to school, a simple act, they became foot soldiers for freedom,” said former President Bill Clinton decades later.

Archival video provided by NBC Learn, the education arm of NBC News. For more historic video and classroom resources for teachers and students, visit