Black activism in Arkansas, 1940-1970
In September 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas was the scene of a dramatic confrontation between federal and state government that brought to a head the southern movement of massive resistance against the United States Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling. Although numerous studies have analysed the Little Rock crisis from a variety of perspectives, one striking omission in the existing historiography is the role played by the local black community who were at the very centre of events. Building upon recent local and state studies conducted by scholars of the civil rights movement, this thesis locates the events in Little Rock of September 1957 within an unfolding struggle for black rights at a local, state, regional and national level between 1940 and 1970. In so doing, the thesis seeks to revise the time-frame for black activism imposed by a first wave of civil rights scholarship, which focused almost exclusively on the role played by national civil rights organisations between 1955 and 1%5. It argues that only by comprehending the groundwork laid in the 1940s and 1950s, through litigation and voter registration drives at a grassroots level, can the significance of later black protests be fully understood. In line with the findings of other state studies, it highlights the pivotal role played by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which, assisted by a nexus of local organisations, formed the backbone of early civil rights struggles at a local level. Thus, the thesis aims not only to provide a corrective for the existing gap in the historiography of the Little Rock school crisis, but also seeks to broaden and deepen our understanding of the ways in which indigenous black movements developed and sustained protest strategies at state and local levels across the South.