Daisy Bates: An Unsung Hero

By Purnell T. Cropper | February 3, 2012

By Michael Schwartz ’14

Looking back at the Civil Rights Era, some of the first people who come to mind are Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, famous activists who risked everything for a dream. However, they weren’t the only ones who fought for freedom and equality. Daisy Bates is one of many figures whose sacrifices aren’t recognized nearly enough.

Throughout her life, Bates contributed to the Civil Rights and feminist movements. She took a major step forward personally when she became the President of the Arkansas NAACP branches in 1952. However, her involvement in the Little Rock Integration Crisis has defined her legacy. Bates personally guided the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African American students who enrolled at the previously segregated Little Rock Central High School. Bates and the students met incredible resistance, from abusive mobs and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, a staunch segregationist. Intervention by President Dwight Eisenhower, who called upon the U.S. Army, and later the Arkansas National Guard, to escort the Little Rock Nine into the school and keep order, spurred the process. It was a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.

Arcadia University celebrated the life and accomplishments of Bates by presenting Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock, a documentary examining her life. The screening, which took place in the Landman Library Beaver College Room, gave students and faculty members the opportunity to watch the film and discuss the legacy and impact of Daisy Bates and freedom fighters like her, as well as the state of current affairs.

Dr. Dina Pinsky, Professor of Sociology and event organizer, wanted people to learn about “the immense bravery and human dignity of the high school students and Daisy Bates.” Pinsky was captivated by their resolute stand against such adversity. “It takes incredible bravery to walk into school day after day with people screaming at you, and hating you, and beating you when you are there,” she says. “It takes immense fortitude …. So that’s what I found most inspiring.”

After the film Reverend LeRoi Simmons, Coordinator of the Germantown Clergy Initiative (GCI), led a group discussion. He admired how Bates and other female activists persevered in the face of so many obstacles. He says, “They were mutilated, they were abused continually, they lived in terror. [Bates] had to live in terror and she had to face this terror, overcome it, and still succeed.”

Simmons continued his praise of female Civil Rights activists: “The movement and the noise were coming from these black women because they were suffering the worst. They stood up and that’s what led to the women’s movement, because they were suffering the worst. Yet, they were still overshadowed by men. And some of them, Rosa [Parks], actually pushed Dr. King into the lead of the bus boycott.”

Lindsay Deal ’13 enjoyed the experience and felt that more students should attend Community Cinema events. She says, “I think the movie we saw today was really poignant and something people should still learn about and still be aware of. I thought it was good that Arcadia had something like this and more people should be involved.”

It’s very important that films like these are made so people can learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. As Simmons put it, “The thing that touched me most about the film was that there are stories in the Civil Rights Movement that I don’t know and I appreciate folks doing the research and actually putting it together so that we can find out more of the real people who helped pull this thing together… to get us towards freedom.”