At the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP), we celebrate those who paved the way for the desegregation of schools in the United States. Their sacrifice and courage are to be commended and appreciated. Segregation of housing, education, and employment opportunities were institutionalized as were state-supported methods for denying resources to African Americans, as well as other ethnic minorities.
“The Little Rock Nine” are the nine African American students who were once barred from Central High School because of their race. September 23, 2007, marked 50 years since president Dwight D. Eisenhower directed soldiers to escort the students inside the school. In September 1957, then Arkansas governor Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine African American children out of Central High. The U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated classrooms unconstitutional; the court concluded that many districts were operating education systems that were separate but not equal. For three weeks, Little Rock became the focus of a clash between Faubus and Eisenhower. Faubus pulled the guard away, but a crowd of white men and women gathered outside the school on September 23 to prevent it from complying with U.S. district judge Ronald Davies’ desegregation order. That night Eisenhower authorized the use of federal troops to enforce Davies’ order, and members of the 101st Airborne escorted the Little Rock Nine to classes on September 25, 1957.
For the past three years the Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy (ELAP) doctoral program has participated in the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance’s Tools for Tolerance Program. Beverly LeMay, program manager of the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance’s Tools for Tolerance for Professionals program, coordinated the opportunity for two cohorts from the ELAP program to meet Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine students. The afternoon session included a lecture with Dr. Roberts, where he shared his Little Rock Nine experience with the ELAP students, answered questions, took photos, and signed autographs.
As the GSEP students shared their dissertation studies regarding social justice, civil rights and equal education, Dr. Roberts offered himself as a resource for future communication and study associated with these topics.
Fifty years ago the all-white mob jeered the nine students; at this year’s celebration, the multiracial crowd who gathered welcomed them. As educators at GSEP, we recognize and celebrate the importance of equal opportunity and access; simultaneously we are aware that there is a continued need for the promotion of justice within the educational system and throughout U.S. society.