November 11, 1914 – November 4, 1999
Daisy Bates was born Daisy Gatson in a small town in Arkansas. She was sent to live with close friends of her father when she was still quite young. At the age of eight years old Gatson learned the truth about what happened to her parents. Her biological mother had been raped, murdered, and dumped in a pond by three local white men who were never investigated or prosecuted. In fear for his life, her father fled town and the two never saw each other again. Hearing about what happened to her mother lit a fire in Bates that pushed her to fight against injustice. And attending local segregated schools exposed her to the subpar environments and resources that were made available for Black students.
While in her teens, Gatson met Lucius Christopher “L.C.” Bates, an insurance agent and former journalist. The couple moved to Little Rock in 1941 and married in 1942 before launching the Arkansas State Press, a weekly newspaper that covered Black issues and the Civil Rights Movement. Bates later became more heavily involved with the Civil Rights Movement by joining the Arkansas branch of the NAACP and later became President of the Arkansas Conference of Branches in 1952.
Following the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs Board of Ed case that segregation was unconstitutional the Little Rock School Board developed a plan for slowing and in some cases preventing the integration of public schools. Bates worked with the NAACP to push for immediate integration as Black students continued to be prevented from enrolling at White schools. Accompanied by the press, Bates personally made several failed attempts to escort Black children to White public schools. Despite these setbacks, the school board eventually gave in and planned to begin desegregation in September 1957 with Central High School.
Nine Black students, who came to be known as the “Little Rock Nine”, were chosen to integrate the school. When Bates and the students arrived on September 4th, they were barred from entering by a large group of White protestors and the Arkansas National Guard who were called in by the governor. The Little Rock Nine were finally able to enter the school on September 25th as a result of President Dwight D. Eisenhower sending federal troops to provide security and enforce the law. Bates continued to accompany and support the students for the entire school year.
Efforts to integrate the Little Rock schools were covered in the Arkansas State Press and the Bateses’ opened their home for use as headquarters for planning the strategy for integrating Central High. Bates received death threats, her home was vandalized, and the Arkansas State Press was forced to close in 1959 as a result of many White business owners pulling their ads which result in a decrease in ad revenue.
Despite these attempts at intimidation, Daisy Bates continued to be an activist and spent some time in Washington, DC working for the Democratic National Committee and the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s anti-poverty projects. Following a stroke in 1965, she returned to Arkansas where she continued to work on various community programs.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Daisy Bates.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Feb. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Daisy-Bates-civil-rights-leader.
- “Daisy Bates.” National Women’s History Museum, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/daisy-bates.
- “Daisy Bates.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 12 Apr. 2019, www.biography.com/activist/daisy-bates.
- “Daisy Bates (Activist).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisy_Bates_(activist).
- “Daisy Bates (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/people/dbates.htm.
- Nielsen, Euell A. “Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (1914-1999) • BlackPast.” BlackPast, 16 June 2019, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/bates-daisy-1914-1999.
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