How do the Little Rock Nine connect to the Cold War?
The standoff at Little Rock Central High School occurred in 1957, at the height of the Cold War. To understand its significance, it is important to understand that the Cold War was as much an ideological conflict as a military one. The United States wanted to project an image of itself as a beacon of freedom, one which they hoped the world would see as fundamentally opposed to Soviet communism. Racial segregation in the American South was, in this context, a real embarrassment to President Dwight Eisenhower and his successors. When angry crowds gathered to stop the planned integration of Little Rock Central, news cameras sent images around the world that undermined the image that American policymakers hoped to project. Eisenhower, recognizing the damage that these images were doing to American prestige abroad, made the decision to nationalize the Arkansas National Guard (which had been used by governor Orval Faubus to keep the students out) and to send in the United States Army to restore order and enforce a federal court order requiring integration. Civil rights leaders were fully aware of the issues raised by the Cold War, and sought to use the tension between American rhetoric and Jim Crow realities to create momentum for change.