On Sept. 23, 1957, eight
black students entered an all-white high school in Little
Rock, Ark. This historic event
was captured by Relman Morin, who wrote a detailed eyewitness account of the
mob violence during the school integration crisis at Central
High School in Little
Rock. Morin was a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning
American journalist during the U.S.
civil rights movement. He won the prize for his report, which is entitled
"Look! They’re Going Into the School!," on the Little
Rock school integration crisis. According to John
Hohenberg, former Pulitzer Prize official, Morin’s piece was "one of the
most remarkable instances of on-the-spot reporting in current American
journalism." It covered a turning point in the civil rights movement and
the struggle for racial equality in schools. More than 50 years later, it is
still worth reading.
Morin was born in Freeport, Ill.,
on Sept. 11, 1907. He began
to take an interest in journalism in high school, and his journalism career
started off at the Los Angeles Times at age 15. In 1934, he joined the
Associated Press (AP) and became the chief of the AP bureau in Tokyo
and a Far East correspondent until the Pearl
Harbor attack in 1941. Morin was also a war correspondent
stationed in Saigon but was imprisoned by the Japanese
on espionage charges for seven months. He received his first Pulitzer Prize in
1951 for his coverage of the Korean War. In 1958, he received the second for
his reporting on the Little Rock
school integration crisis.
Little Rock was a top story in
American journalism during September 1957. On the morning of Sept. 23, 1957, as Morin worked from
a glass telephone booth across from Little Rock’s
Central High School,
the mob turned against the press. Apparently, the mob did not want the press to
make them look bad and expose their cruelty toward black people. Morin stated
that he witnessed the beatings of a black reporter and three white journalists
(two photographers and a reporter) from Life magazine. He feared for his
life but bravely remained in the middle of all the hysteria to report his
alarming observations. He continued to dictate detailed information, even as
his phone booth was rocked back and forth and a white youth tried to knock it
Morin described the event as a "drama-packed climax of three weeks of
integration struggle in Little Rock."
The initial date for integration was Sept. 3, the first day of the fall term.
The night before, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus ringed Central
High School with National
Guardsmen. Gov. Faubus claimed that he sent for the National Guardsmen because
he wanted to protect citizens and property from violent protestors on their way
to Little Rock. When one of the
black students tried to enter the school on Sept. 2, she was stopped by a
Guardsman and harassed by a white mob. John Kirk, author of Beyond Little
Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis, states that the "events
raised not only a national but also an international outcry."
The uproar in Little Rock was the
product of a policy of "minimal compliance" with integration.
According to Kirk, school superintendent Virgil Blossom was the "architect
of minimal compliance in Little Rock."
Minimal compliance, a way to legally delay and limit school desegregation as
long as possible, was a less severe form of massive resistance. As Kirk states,
"[It] offered a less harmful way of frustrating the process of school
desegregation but that actually wreaked chaos."
Only after negotiations between Gov. Faubus and President Dwight Eisenhower
broke down did the president reluctantly federalize the National Guard. After
two weeks of negotiation, nine black students were scheduled to enter Central
High School with armed federal
escorts on Sept. 23, 1957.
In his article, Morin described the chaotic event in vivid detail, making
readers envision the scene as if they had experienced it themselves. He wrote
with such specifics to expose the horrible situation and the cruelty of the
white protestors. The title of the article, "Look! They’re Going Into the
School!" was a direct quote from the crowd when the eight black students
first entered the school. The mob was distracted by four black adults walking
down the street toward the school. The crowd rushed toward them and beat them
on the front lawn of a nearby home. Morin stated that it was clearly a
diversion intended to lure the crowd away from the school so the students could
Morin used many direct quotes from the mob to explain the severity of the situation.
"They’re gone in," a man roared. "Oh, God, the niggers are in
the school!" The crowd was in a state of panic, and many women were
screaming, crying and tearing at their hair. The parents of the white students
were desperate to get their children out of the school. Morin stated that the
first woman who broke out in tears told one of the reporters: "Why don’t
you tell them we are peaceful people who won’t stand to have our kids sitting
next to a nigger?"
Originally, there were supposed to be nine black students attending Central
High School that day, but one did
not show up. Morin described the eight black students as they entered the
school and noted that they did not run or walk fast. The black students did not
show any fear entering the school, and their bravery distinguished them from
the violent mob. Morin included a description of the black students: "The
girls were in bobby sox, and the boys were dressed in shirts open at the neck.
All were carrying books."
Later in the article, Morin reported that the crowd cheered when three white
students walked out of the high school. He stated the white students were
carrying books and the girls were wearing bobby sox as well. Morin’s similar
description of the black and white students implies that the black students
were probably not very different from the white students. They were there for
the same reason, which was to learn, and they even dressed the same as the
Initially, Morin stated that the crowd forced the authorities to withdraw the
black students from the school because of extreme violence inside and outside
the school. However, in his contradictory closing paragraph he stated that "inside
there was no sign that this was different from any other school day," and
he quoted a student who claimed that in a class of 30 only one student remained
when a black student entered the class. It is unclear why Morin contradicted
himself in his closing paragraph. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that he was
just a spectator; he included commentaries from the students because they were
the only ones allowed inside the school.
Morin dramatically revealed the horrors of racism during the 1950s with his
incisive report on the Little Rock
school integration crisis. His article represents the struggles faced by black
people and minorities during the civil rights movement; it has the same
emotional impact today that it had in 1957. Morin put the message across that
racial discrimination was a serious problem in the United
States. His work reminds us of how the
school integration crisis was an important step in desegregation and ultimately
led to equal opportunity and racial acceptance in the United
Jennifer Alicea is a double major in biology and allied health technologies at Rutgers-Newark. Posted January 2008.