Eyes on the Prize: Fighting Back (1957-1962)

About This Episode


"Supreme Court or no Supreme Court, we are going to maintain segregated schools down in Dixie." - U. S. Senator James Eastland, Democrat from Mississippi

Southern whites resist the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which states that separate school facilities are inherently unequal and orders school integration. Several southern governors lead the way in preventing integration, claiming the federal government is intervening in state matters, and pledge to maintain the South's traditions and heritage. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) legal team files suit to open the doors of public educational institutions to African Americans.

- Alabama: In 1956, mob rule and violence are used to keep Autherine Lucy from enrolling in the University of Alabama. A court decision backs her efforts.

- Arkansas: In 1957, a group of African American high school students, known as the Little Rock Nine, pass through angry crowds to integrate Arkansas's Central High School. They are protected by paratroopers dispatched by President Dwight Eisenhower and advised by state NAACP officials.

THEN & now > READ/LISTEN TO Facing History's "In Her Own Words" of Elizabeth Eckford's first day at Central High School

- Louisiana: In 1960, white residents riot over four black girls entering a desegregated first-grade classroom in New Orleans.

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- Mississippi: In 1962, James Meredith is barred from registering at the University of Mississippi by Governor Ross Barnett. Barnett engages in negotiations with President John Kennedy, who then sends federal marshals to the campus. A mob of segregationists erupts in violence, killing two people and wounding others before the U.S. Army restores order. Ultimately, Meredith will enroll and graduate from the university.

- Virginia: The governor chooses to close schools rather than allow integration.

then & NOW > LISTEN TO This American Life's "The Problem We All Live With" with Nikole Hannah-Jones

The award-winning documentary series Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.

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