Herstory: The Power of Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates was a key figure in ending segregation in Arkansas. She was the president of the Arkansas NAACP and a reporter for the Arkansas State Press. She stood out as a prominent, powerful woman in an era dominated by African American male leaders. Her power and leading role on a national stage were unusual at the time. Yet when we learn about the Civil Rights Movement, we rarely—if ever— hear her name.

Photo: Wikipedia

Bates was the woman behind the Little Rock Nine. She recruited the students who would become the infamous nine, a task not suited for any regular Joe. At the time, sending one’s child to an all-white high school was a risk many parents refused to take.

 

Daisy Bates was described as “a quarterback, the coach” by Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine. Her home was the hub for the media and the meeting place before the nine students were sent to Central High in Jeeps sent by President Eisenhower. Her home was headquarters for the five boys and four girls for weeks after they took the first plunge of integration.

Photo: Wikipedia

Daisy Bates revealed the importance of a woman in a social movement. Her ability to speak to anxious families and give them the sense of comfort they needed greatly contributed to the success of the Little Rock Nine. She was beautiful, poised, and sophisticated, as described by her friend Annie Abrams.

 

Had the Central High School not been integrated in the wake of the Brown v Board of Education decision, who knows at what rate the rest of the nation would have integrated its schools.

In social movements, local level successes are important because the change is happening then and there. That day in 1957, Central High was desegregated. On the other hand, occurrences at the federal level are not as effective. For example, Duval County was one of the very last districts to comply with a federal mandate of desegregation. Brown v Board of Education was in 1954, yet Duval County complied in 1971.

Photo: Wikipedia

Bates’ “disappearance” from history books is damaging to future social movements. The more children are taught solely about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and less of Daisy Bates, the less they will strive to enact change in the world. The glorification of only a few large actors in social movements causes people to feel as though they cannot do anything. But the truth is, as proven by Daisy Bates, anyone can be the change in the world.

 

All background information attributed to NPR.