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LITTLE ROCK – The brick house at 1207 West 28th Street stands at the intersection of the United States civil rights movement and Little Rock.
February is Black History Month, and today I’d like to talk about that house and about Daisy Gatson Bates and her husband, Lucious Christopher Bates, who lived there and led from there.
In the national civil rights movement, Daisy and L.C. Bates were well known and well regarded. In Little Rock, they were bigger than life.
Their work did not begin in that house. But it was there that all their life’s work crystallized into the showdown with the governor of Arkansas that attracted the world’s attention.
The house is the one where Daisy Bates mentored, encouraged, and comforted the Little Rock Nine in 1957 as the teenagers prepared to defy the segregation of our schools to become the first African-American students to attend Central High School.
There in that house, Daisy and L.C. received prominent leaders such as Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr., who in the spring of 1958 attended graduation at Central High as Ernest Green became the school’s first African-American graduate.
By the time the Bateses bought the lot and built the house in 1955, they already were well known for their civil rights work, which included their civil-rights advocacy in the Arkansas State Press newspaper, which L.C. Bates founded in 1941. The newspaper was the primary source for news about the African American community in Arkansas.
Their work expanded. Admiration for their fearless leadership increased. Their reputation spread.
In 1952, Daisy Bates was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of Branches, the umbrella organization for the state NAACP.
In 1954, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Daisy helped lead the campaign to speed up the integration of Little Rock schools.
Then in 1957, Daisy and other leaders carefully recruited students who were willing to face down the anger and the danger to integrate Central High.
In a letter that Dr. King wrote to Daisy Bates in the heat of that battle, he encouraged her to lead “the people of Little Rock to adhere rigorously to a way of non-violence. …” His letter continued: “You must meet physical force with soul force. … History is on your side. World opinion is with you.”
Daisy Bates’s story remains integral to the national civil rights narrative, and it is important to remember, especially during Black History Month.
In Little Rock, we have named a street in her honor. That house on West 28th Street now is a National Historic Landmark. The L.C. and Daisy Bates Museum Foundation owns the house, which is outfitted to look as it did on the day when Daisy Bates read the promise of Martin Luther King, words that still ring with beauty and truth.
“Keep struggling with this faith,” Dr. King wrote, “and the tragic midnight of anarchy and mob rule … will be transformed into the glowing daybreak of freedom and justice.”
Daisy Gatson Bates titled her memoir The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Through the front window of that modest yellow-brick house here in Little Rock where Daisy and L.C. challenged the system, America glimpsed a first glow of the daybreak that continues to burn off the shadow.