LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – When discussing the process of desegregation in schools across the country, you can’t negate the impact that the Little Rock Nine played and how Daisy Lee Gatson Bates contributed to making a cultural change in the education system.
In 2001, the Arkansas legislature acknowledged the third Monday in February as Daisy Gatson Bates Day, but who exactly was Bates and why was she an influential figure in Arkansas history?
Who was Daisy Bates?
Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was born in November of 1914 in Huttig. Before the age of 7, she was taken into foster care and raised by Susie and Orlee Smith. At the age of 15, Bates met L. C. Bates, who later became her husband in 1942.
Just a year before marrying, the couple moved to Little Rock to start the Arkansas State Press, a weekly newspaper that focused on civil rights for African Americans.
In 1952, Bates became the president of the Arkansas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which led to an event that signifies why she celebrated today.
Why do we celebrate Daisy Bates Day?
In 1954, the decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education ruled that racial segregation in public schools violated the 14th amendment, making it unconstitutional. Even after the Supreme Court ruling, Black students in Arkansas were denied the same access to public education as whites.
Bates continued to push for equal opportunity in the school systems by becoming a leader and mentor to nine Black students, who became the notable Little Rock Nine in 1957.
Bates, along with the Little Rock Nine, faced many threats throughout the 1957-58 school year at Central High School, but she continued to stand for what she believed in.
Today, children from different races and backgrounds now have the chance to not only sit across from one another, they are able to build a bond due to Bates influence on the school systems in Arkansas.
How is Daisy Bates remembered today?
Though Bates died in November of 1999, there are multiple landmarks that reminds not only Arkansans, but everyone across the country why she is important to the Black community.
Throughout Arkansas, there are multiple streets in her name, including one in Little Rock. Bates was also honored by the Pulaski County Special School District with an elementary school in her name.
In 2019, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a law to replace prominent statues at the U.S. Capitol with statues of Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash.