Daisy Gatson Bates: November 10, 1914-November 4, 1999 — American journalist, civil rights leader and advocate of racial intergration
American journalist, civil rights leader and advocate of racial intergration
It is important that we care, but when effort is added to caring, we change the world in which we live.
Daisy Gatson Bates, president of the NAACP Arkansas State Conference during the 1957 Little Rock school integration campaign, realized this early in her life and worked to change her world. Her success could be measured by the more than 200 citations and awards she received. Bates’ preferred measure was her success in “removing fear that people have for getting involved” – getting them to add the effort to the caring.
Bates was born in a time and place where black women were raped with impunity and murdered for resisting. That was how Bates became a motherless child in her hometown of Huttig, Ark., “a sawmill plantation,” she called it in her award-winning 1962 book, The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
When she was eight, Bates’ father told her of this tragedy “in simple words I could understand… He wanted me to realize that my mother wouldn’t have died if it hadn’t been for her race [and] her pride.”
The revelation changed her life: I was like a little sapling, which after a violent storm, puts out only gnarled and twisted branches.”
By 1957, the sapling Daisy Bates had become the sturdy tree at the center of the attempt by the little Rock Nine, nine black students selected from a pool of 75 to attend all-white Central High School. Bates had been in civil rights battles before – police brutality@ labor struggles, bus desegregation – as a crusading editor of the Arkansas State Press, a weekly newspaper founded in 1941 by her husband, L. Christopher Bates.
“There was no lack of causes for which to crusade,” Bates wrote, As state NINO president, Bates came under venomous attack from segregationists after the NAACP filed suit to desegregate little Rock schools in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The city had offered only a vague plan of integration “sometime in 1957.” Bates was arrested; threatened (a rock with a note, “Stone this time, dynamite next,” was hurled into her home); and terrorized by a cross-burning on her roof. She stood unbending through the storming of white mobs, the Capital Citizens Council. the White Citizens Council, the Ku Klux Klan, and the intimidation of National Guardsmen deployed by Gov. Orval Faubus.
She kept the courageous warrior families upright and together until President Eisenhower was finally obliged to order the U.S. Army to escort The Nine to classes. But even mighty trees are felled. Bates and her husband were financially broken when the loss of advertising forced their newspaper to fold in 1958.
Ultimately, Bates’ declining health caused her family to place her in a nursing home. The Missouri City, Texas, Branch of the NAACP learned of this and sent the Bates family $1,000. The family’s response was poignant: “Many thanks to the Missouri City & Vicinity NAACP for your lovely gift. You have truly made our day. For such a long time, we felt alone and forgotten.
This pioneer, the only woman speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, was presented the 1958 Spingam Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor, jointly with the Little Rock Nine. And in 1961 the association named its first annual education symposium for her. She is ranked with such American freedom fighters as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr.. by Ernest Green, one of The Nine who had a distinguished career with the U.S. Department of Labor before becoming an investment banker.
Kweisi Mfume, president and CEO of the NAACP, affirmed her stature: “Daisy Bates was a true American hero. She was a model for all of us then and now. In the face of great physical danger to herself and to her family, Daisy Bates remained steady as a rock. ”
Phil Petrie, a former book editor for William Morrow and MacMillan & Co., was the editor ofBlack Enterprise magazine. Now an editorial consultant and freelance writer, be lives in Clarksville, Tenn.
Copyright Crisis Publishing Company, Incorporated Nov/Dec 1999
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