Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas

Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas

Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas

Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas


Daisy Bates (1914-1999) is renowned as the mentor of the Little Rock Nine, the first African Americans to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For guiding the Nine through one of the most tumultuous civil rights crises of the 1950s, she was selected as Woman of the Year in Education by the Associated Press in 1957 and was the only woman invited to speak at the Lincoln Memorial ceremony in the March on Washington in 1963. But her importance as a historical figure has been overlooked by scholars of the civil rights movement.

Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas chronicles her life and political advocacy before, during, and well after the Central High School crisis. An orphan from the Arkansas mill town of Huttig, she eventually rose to the zenith of civil rights action. In 1952, she was elected president of the NAACP in Arkansas and traveled the country speaking on political issues. During the 1960s, she worked as a field organizer for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to get out the black vote. Even after a series of strokes, she continued to orchestrate self-help and economic initiatives in Arkansas.

Using interviews, archival records, contemporary news-paper accounts, and other materials, author Grif Stockley reconstructs Bates's life and career, revealing her to be a complex, contrary leader of the civil rights movement. Ultimately, Daisy Bates paints a vivid portrait of an ardent, overlooked advocate of social justice.

Grif Stockley is a staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. He is the author of several books, including Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919, Blind Judgment, Probable Cause, and Expert Testimony. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.


The richness and complexity of the men, both black and white, who marched in opposing camps during the critical period of the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s are only now being fully appreciated as scholars gain distance from that era. One can almost hear the dead sighing in relief from their graves. Yet whatever their motives and the influences that shaped them, these men participated in a revolution such as the United States has never seen, before or since. In retrospect, their accomplishments were astonishing. In a matter of years, customs and laws that had endured for centuries simply vanished into history. Surely as important, the civil rights movement helped to spawn revolutions in the treatment of women, people with disabilities, juveniles, gays and lesbians, the environment, and a host of other concerns (such as the rights of criminal defendants) that are still being played out today. The fact that inevitable counterrevolutions have been launched in these areas only underscores the impact of the civil rights movement in this era.

Of course, men alone were not the only participants in the civil rights movement. Women, young people, and even children took to the streets and occasionally filled the jails in this era. But it is the role of women, and specifically the role of some of the black women, in the civil rights movement that concerns us in this introductory chapter about the life of one of them.

It is instructive to begin at the apex of the movement—the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, in which an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 people gathered on the Mall to hear and support their leaders as they demanded an end to racial apartheid in the United States. Though now remembered primarily in popular culture for Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I have a dream” speech, the March on Washington and the program . . .

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