After the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 declared that the doctrine separate but equal was inherently unequal, schools across the nation were ordered to desegregate (meaning that African-American and other students would attend school together). Little Rock, Arkansas was regarded by most politicians as a fairly progressive southern city, so its schools were chosen as among the first to desegregate. In 1957, nine African-American students were sent to Central High School in Little Rock; however, they were not accepted.
On the first day of school, September 4, 1957, a violent white mob gathered outside the school, and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the state National Guard to stop the entry of the African-American students. Eventually, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced President Eisenhower to intervene, and the students returned to the school. Federal troops and state national guard members protected the students as they went about their day.
However, as Melba Pattillo Beals (who was one of the Little Rock Nine) documents in her compelling account Warriors Don't Cry, the students were constantly subject to harassment. For example, the soldiers protecting them could not accompany the female African-American students into the bathrooms, where other students harassed them. Not all the white students were hostile, but the mood of the school was so antagonistic towards integration that the African-American students were treated differently than whites, even though they attended the white school. At the end of the year, Ernest Green became the first African-American student to graduate from Central High School. All of the students who formed the Little Rock Nine won the Springarn Medal from the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) for their courage in facing constant brutality and discrimination while integrating the school.