In a shaded, peaceful residential district near Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., nine Negro children quietly laid out their best clothes for the next morning. It was the eve of school integration in Little Rock. City police, who had checked carefully and found no hint of trouble, followed routine patrols through the quiet streets. Then, at 9 p.m.. Little Rock came awake with a shock: a National Guard unit, 150 strong, with MIS, carbines and billies, churned up to the darkened high school in trucks, halftracks and jeeps. They unloaded tear-gas bombs, fixed bayonets, sealed off all doors, and set up a perimeter defense around the groundswhile a red-haired cigar-chomper named Sherman T. Clinger, in the uniform of an Air National Guard major general, took over the principal's office as a command post.
What had happened? Little Rock soon got an answerof sorts. At 10:05 p.m. Arkansas' Democratic Governor Orval Faubus, a backwoods politician turned Dapper Dan (see box), marched into the studio of station KTHV for a television appearance he had scheduled within the hour. Cried Faubus: "Now that a federal court has ruled that no further litigation is possible before the forcible integration of Negroes and whites in Central High School tomorrow, the evidence of discord, anger and resentment has come to me from so many sources as to become a deluge!" To hear Faubus tell it, Little Rock was indeed on the brink of riot: outraged white mothers were prepared to march on the school at 6 a.m.; caravans of indignant white citizens even then were converging on Little Rock from all over Arkansas. And Little Rock stores', declared the governor, were selling out of knives, "mostly to Negro youths." Announced Faubus: "Units of the National Guard have been, and are now being, mobilized with the mission to maintain or restore the peace and good order of this community."
The Faubus version of crisis in Little Rock was open to immediate doubt. Arkansas does not have a record of racial violence: the state university at Fayetteville was quietly integrated in 1948; during the very week that Little Rock was supposed to explode, three other Arkansas communitiesOzark, Fort Smith and Van Burenintegrated without a murmur. Furthermore, bus integration is a statewide fact, and Little Rock's white and Negro citizens have become accustomed to their Negro policemen.
And a Shaggy Dog. Looking toward school integration, the Little Rock school board and Superintendent of Schools Virgil Blossom had set up a gradual, carefully selective, seven-year plan specifically aimed at "the least amount of integration spread over the longest period of time." As recently as last April, two new school-board members were overwhelmingly elected with their support of the integration plan as the chief issue. The Little Rock school board had selected the nine Negro children carefully, considering intelligence, achievement, conduct, health even the shade of their skins.