- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fifty years ago this month, the struggle over school desegregation led to President Eisenhower’s decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce a court order requiring the admission of black students into previously all-white Central High School.

That 1957 decision to send U.S. paratroopers into Little Rock is the culmination of Kasey S. Pipe’s new book, “Ike’s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality.”

The retired general who as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II had become world-famous as “Ike” wrestled with the issue of race while trying to promote minority rights in a country governed by majority rule, said Mr. Pipes.

“It’s a fascinating story to watch this man work through this problem,” said Mr. Pipes, president of the Pipes Company, a corporate communications consulting firm in Dallas. He is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and lives in Fort Worth, Texas. “It was not at all clear in the 1950s how to create a society of civil rights.”

Mr. Pipes focuses on the issue of race as a window into Mr. Eisenhower’s character by demonstrating the process the president underwent to arrive at his decisions on civil rights.

“It’s fashionable to look at Eisenhower through the lens of D-Day and World War II. Why not take a issue considered to be his weak point?” said Mr. Pipes. “What I found out was that his weak point wasn’t weak.”

Before his military career, Mr. Eisenhower had little interaction with blacks and little understanding of the injustices they faced, Mr. Pipes said. But while serving, he began to realize that his views were incorrect and, as Army chief of staff, became committed to desegregating the Army, Mr. Pipes said.

In 1953, despite some hesitation about running for office, Mr. Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States.

“Here is someone who comes into office, who has already grappled with the moral issue represented by racial injustice,” said Richard Norton Smith, scholar in residence at George Mason University in Fairfax, where he teaches an American presidency course. “For example, you can’t understand what he did in Little Rock if you don’t know what he did in the Battle of Bulge, where as a last resort, he used black troops in combat roles.”

Mr. Smith is former director of five different presidential libraries, including that for Mr. Eisenhower.

“It doesn’t sound like much today, but [using black troops in combat] was a radical departure in 1944 from governing policy. He learned that black troops could display every bit as much courage and ability in combat positions as anyone else, and that was a lesson he needed to learn,” Mr. Smith said.

While in office, Mr. Eisenhower initiated action on civil rights by desegregating the nation’s capital city, Mr. Pipes said. At the same time, Mr. Eisenhower questioned whether the country was ready for a drastic change. He instead supported a gradual, education-based approach that would bring little resistance from Southerners, Mr. Pipes said.

In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” policy in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., ruling. “In confronting segregation, the Supreme Court may have been unanimous, but the American people were not,” Mr. Pipes said.

In 1955, the Supreme Court unanimously voted to order local school districts to integrate black children into white schools. The Eisenhower administration urged each school district to submit an integration plan to a local federal court, and several school districts, including Little Rock, indicated that they would comply.

“What the book accomplishes is it brings Eisenhower front and center in the struggle over Little Rock and all the struggles over civil rights history,” said Juan Williams, political analyst for Fox News and author of a history of the civil rights movement and a biography on Thurgood Marshall. “You see in this one man how much the country struggles to fulfill its ideals that all men are created equal.”

The showdown over segregation in Little Rock began on Sept. 3, 1957, when the Little Rock School Board ordered the nine black children selected to integrate Central High School to stay home. A federal judge ordered that the “Little Rock Nine” be allowed to integrate the school as planned.

The next day, National Guard troops turned the black students away from the school by order of Gov. Orval Faubus, who had vowed during his election campaign to stall integration. Crowds formed at the school to prevent the students’ entry.

On Sept. 5, the school board recommended integration be halted until law and order could be restored.

On Sept. 20, a federal court ruled that Mr. Faubus should have used the National Guard troops to assist with integration rather than block it.

On Sept. 23, the nine students entered the school building without the knowledge of the police and the mob assembled outside the school building, but the assistant police chief ordered that the students be removed.

On Sept. 25, Mr. Eisenhower ordered federal intervention. He nationalized the Arkansas National Guard removing those troops from Mr. Faubus’ command and sent in the 101st Airborne Division. An Army vehicle took the Little Rock Nine to the front of the school. Each student had an assigned soldier to follow and protect them during the school day.

By Oct. 23, the Little Rock Nine walked into school with no troops supporting them.

In effect, Mr. Eisenhower had taken on Mr. Faubus and set the precedent that federal law would prevail, Mr. Pipes said. His hesitancy to send in the troops, however, has been misunderstood.

“The fact he didn’t relish sending American troops into an American city speaks well of him,” Mr. Pipes said. “It’s not good practice to have Army troops patrolling a city.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide