As Congress debates the finishing touches of the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, it's worth revisiting another bold action taken by our federal government on this date, September 24, half a century ago. While intervention by the feds 2008-style looks to be a big fat mulligan for Wall Street hustlers, back in 1957 the feds came down in a big way on the side of a very different group of American citizens.
The event in question took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, where that state's segregationist governor, Orval Faubus, was refusing to allow "negro" students to integrate that city's Central High School in compliance with the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Ed. Beginning in early September, Faubus began playing a game of chicken with the Justice Department in Washington, hinting that he might admit the black children while stoking the venom of the growing white crowds surrounding the school. On September 24, President Eisenhower called Faubus' bluff, federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and sending them, along with the 101st Airborne, to escort the students to class. (Astonishingly, Faubus moderated his views so much over time, that by 1984, he had publicly endorsed Jesse Jackson for president!)
There has been much written about the crisis at Central High in 1957 and the fate of the Little Rock Nine, the students who ultimately integrated the school, but possibly the most significant commemoration of this key moment in the Civil Rights Movement came from jazz bassist Charles Mingus, who recorded "Fables of Faubus" less than two years later for his album Mingus Ah Um. Columbia Records, Mingus' label, refused to let the musicians perform the tune with the accompanying spoken lyrics, so, a year later, Mingus released his own version, "Original Faubus Fables," on the progressive Candid label, with the incendiary vocals included. Here is a portion of the lyrics:
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won't permit us in his schools.
Then he's a fool! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)
While we're on the subject of music and school desegregation:
Check out this disturbing pro-segregation tune, The School Bus, recorded in the 1970s by T. Tommy Cutrer. (Curiously, Cutrer was a longtime announcer for the Grand Ole Opry who went on to be elected to the Tennessee state senate, and would later lose a congressional election to a young Albert Gore Jr.).