[September 25, 2014] My great aunt Marie was running her hairdresser shop across the street from the Little Rock Central High School on this day in 1957 when she was surprised by reporters from ABC and NBC. They had come to witness the standoff between the State of Arkansas and soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The battle of ideas to get legal racial segregation removed from U.S. law was an obsession of some of the best minds in American history. And a good thing that those leaders had controlled obsession, otherwise widespread violence may have occurred.
On May 17, 1957 the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that racial segregation in educational facilities was unconstitutional. It had been the goal of the great U.S. President Lincoln and many leaders before him and after to do exactly that. It took more than 90 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to fully free non-whites from the legal sanctions to racial barriers. To think that all this was easy or would have occurred due to the pure logic of it all is wishful thinking. There are certainly a number of senior leader traits that came into play but “obsession” is the one that mattered most. Without true leaders who were fixated on eliminating this injustice, we may have seen it continue.
My great aunt Marie also witnessed the temporary closing of that high school in 1958. Arkansas Governor Faubus fought the law by ordering all Little Rock high schools closed rather than permit racial integration. A federal court later struck down his school closing law and in August 1959, Little Rock’s high schools reopened and were integrated as required by law.
Knowing our history is important to learn lessons that work. An obsession can be good when directed for the betterment of all. That obsession must be controlled; else it becomes a psychological handicap or may cause someone to pursue an evil cause.
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