First She Changed Little Rock, Then She Changed The World

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort African-American students to Central High School in Little Rock in Sept. 1957, after the governor of Arkansas tried to enforce segregation /https://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/140256

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In the face of violent protesters, uncooperative cops, and death threats, Daisy Bates emerged as a leader. This came during a time when society expected women to be followers and to “stay in their place.” She wasn’t having any of that.

Her persistence and determination despite these obstacles cemented her in history as one of the most influential Civil Rights leaders of our generation, offering further proof that we need more women at the helm of our social movements.

Daisy bridged journalism and activism as a means to combat racial inequality and gain status on local and national levels.

With the help of her husband, she created the Arkansas State Press to give voice to civil rights issues and highlight the successes of Black Arkansas community members.

The forward-thinking newspaper was ahead of its time when it came to racial school integration matters, which later turned out to inspire Daisy’s lifework.

In addition to managing the paper, Daisy became president of the Arkansas NAACP when the majority of leaders were men. White and Black men alike were intimidated. They resented her power in the community as an outspoken, articulate, and fervent agent of change.

Her reputation preceded her and famously earned her a chance to address the massive crowd following Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

However, Daisy’s central contribution to Civil Rights came with her involvement with the Little Rock 9, which literally would not have happened without her.

Her home, now a historical landmark, became a haven for the 9 children. It is where all the planning for desegregation occurred and was a hub for local advocacy and action.

By pooling community resources and calling on local activists to unify in advancing the school integration cause, her efforts not only changed Little Rock forever, they set a precedent that subsequently swept the nation.

One of the most symbolic moments of this movement was when Daisy arranged for pastors to walk in front of and behind the 9 students into the school as a spiritual buffer against discrimination.

Many people feel powerless and do not know how to take action in their communities, but Daisy’s story shows that the best way to make an impact is to just start working regardless of what the current power structure permits.

Likewise, we do not have to wait for a new leader, a new organization, or anything for that matter –all we need is the passion and will to be change agents, and the sky's the limit.

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