The Civil Rights Act of 1957

Meanwhile, northern political leaders pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 through Congress, even in the wake of the events in Montgomery and encountering extreme opposition to Brown v. Board of Education. Eisenhower signed the bill, but only after promising southern conservatives that the bill would have little real impact on their daily lives. Although the new bill established a Civil Rights Commission in an attempt to protect black voting rights, the commission made little significant difference in the lives of black southerners. Still, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first major civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction, and its passage was symbolic because it signified the growing importance of the civil rights movement at the federal level.

The Little Rock Crisis

Facing a tough reelection campaign in 1957, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus capitalized on the Brown controversy by defying the federal court order to desegregate public schools. Faubus positioned Arkansas National Guardsmen outside Central High School in Little Rock to prevent nine black students from entering. He then organized an angry white mob outside the school to protest integration and attack black reporters.

Although Eisenhower himself opposed integration, Faubus’s decision to challenge federal authority forced the president to intervene on behalf of the students and end the Little Rock crisis. Eisenhower placed the National Guard under federal authority and sent 1,000 U.S. Army troops to disband the mob and escort the students to class. Still defiant, Faubus closed all public schools in the city for the remainder of the year to prevent “disorder.”

Popular pages: The Civil Rights Era (1865–1970)