|Daisy Lee Gatson Bates|
|Born||November 11, 1914
Huttig, Union County
|Died||November 4, 1999 (aged 84)
Little Rock, Arkansas
|Known for||Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957|
Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (November 11, 1914 – November 4, 1999) was an American civil rights activist, publisher, and writer who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.
Bates was raised by Orle and Susie Smith, whom she believed to be her birth parents for many years. In “The Death of my Mother,” Bates recounted learning as a child that her birth mother had been sexually assaulted and murdered by three local white men. Her father left the family shortly after her mother’s death and left her in the care of his closest friend. L.C. Bates, an insurance salesman who had also worked on newspapers in the South and West. L. C. dated her for several years, and they married in 1942, living in Little Rock. The Bates decided to act on a dream of theirs, the ownership of a newspaper. They leased a printing plant that belonged to a church publication and inaugurating the Arkansas State Press. The first issue appeared on May 9, 1941. The paper became an avid voice for civil rights even before a nationally recognized movement had emerged.
In 1952, Daisy Bates was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP branches.
Little Rock integration crisis
Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock. They published a local black newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which publicized violations of theSupreme Court‘s desegregation rulings. Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they attempted to enroll in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School, a previously all-white institution. The students’ attempts to enroll provoked a confrontation with Governor Orval Faubus, who called out theNational Guard to prevent their entry. White mobs met at the school and threatened to kill the black students; these mobs harassed not only activists but also northern journalists who came to cover the story.
Bates was a pivotal figure in that seminal moment of the civil rights movement. Osro Cobb, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas refers in his memoirs to her, accordingly:
…Daisy Bates and her charges arrived at the school. With surprising ease, they were admitted through one of the less conspicuous entrances. Seconds later, a white female student climbed through a first-story window and yelled that she wasn’t going to school with ‘niggers’. … The sweep of the television cameras showed a crowd that was calm. Many were smiling. None was visibly armed in any way. Things were moving so calmly that the cameramen were observed staging some action. A black was shown on film being kicked in the seat of the pants, but I was told by authorities on the scene that this had been staged. In the crowd, however, were some eight agitators known to the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were there for no good purpose but to create as much chaos as possible. These recruits did not come from Little Rock. They had no children in the school; they were provocateurs. They began to mount on car tops and scream to the crowd. … The agitators first tried to bully the police into defecting. … Tempers began to rise … The leaders of each assault on the police lines were collared and put into police wagons and taken to jail. More than forty persons were taken into custody. No one in the crowd tried to intervene to prevent the arrests and removal of the troublemakers. No one in the crowd had clubs or weapons of any kind. These two points convinced me that 98 percent of the people there were not part of an organized mob….
Nevertheless, the pandemonium at Central High School caused superintendent Virgil Blossom to dismiss school that first day of desegregation, and the crowds dispersed. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhowerintervened by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and dispatching the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to ensure that the court orders were enforced. The troops maintained order, and desegregation proceeded. In the 1958-1959 school year, however, public schools in Little Rock were closed in another attempt to roll back desegregation. That period is known as “The Lost Year” in Arkansas.
In 1998, a spokeswoman for Bates stated that Bates had felt guilty for her failure to notify one of the young ladies that they were delaying the entrance into Central High School. The family of the child had no telephone, and the father did not return from work until 3 a.m. Bates fell asleep before she was able to deliver the message to the family, and the girl attempted to attend her first day alone at the segregated school.
The Little Rock City Council instructed the Little Rock police chief to arrest Bates and other NAACP figures; she and the local branch president surrendered voluntarily. They were charged with failing to provide information about NAACP members for the public record, in violation of a city ordinance. Though Bates was charged a fine by the judge, NAACP lawyers appealed and eventually won a reversal in the United States Supreme Court. In a similar case, the high court held that the state of Alabama could not compel the NAACP to turn over its membership list to state officials.
The Bateses’ involvement in the Little Rock Crisis resulted in the loss of much advertising revenue to their newspaper, and it was forced to close in 1959. In 1960, Daisy Bates moved to New York City and wrote her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which won a 1988 National Book Award.
Then Bates moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for the Democratic National Committee. She also served in the administration of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson working on anti-poverty programs. In 1965, she suffered a stroke and returned to Little Rock.
In 1968 she moved to the rural black community of Mitchellville in Desha County in eastern Arkansas. She concentrated on improving the lives of her neighbors by establishing a self-help program which was responsible for new sewer systems, paved streets, a water system, and community center.
Bates revived the Arkansas State Press in the 1980s after L.C. Bates, her husband, died in 1980.
In 1986 the University of Arkansas Press republished The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which became the first reprinted edition ever to earn an American Book Award. The following year she sold the newspaper, but continued to act as a consultant. Little Rock paid perhaps the ultimate tribute, not only to Bates but to the new era she helped initiate, by opening the Daisy Bates Elementary School and by making the third Monday in February “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” an official state holiday.
Bates died in Little Rock on November 4, 1999.
Filmmaker Sharon La Cruise produced and directed a documentary film about Bates. Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock premiered February 2, 2012 as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS.