OBITUARY: Orval Faubus

Orval Eugene Faubus, politician: born Greasy Creek, Arkansas 7 January 1910; Governor of Arkansas 1955-67; died Conway, Arkansas 14 December 1994.

Until the advent of Bill Clinton, Orval Faubus was the most famous governor of Arkansas. Notorious, many would say, since what made Faubus front-page news around the world in September 1957 was his ordering the National Guard to stop nine African-American teenagers entering Little Rock Central High School. Ironically, Faubus was, by Southern standards, a moderate on the subject of school integration.

The background to this event which shaped his political career was the landmark US Supreme Court decision on 10 May 1954 in the Brown case. By 9-0 the court overturned nearly 60 years of legal precedent by ruling that separate but equal education systemsfor African-Americans and whites were inherently unequal and thus unconsitutional. Clearly, the whole system of racial segregation throughout the nation, and especially the South, was about to unravel.

A year later the court further ruled that segregation be dismantled ``with all deliberate speed'', a Delphic form of words which gave people like President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Faubus himself a pretext for thinking they could delay action.

Ironically Eisenhower, who had been born and raised in the South-west and spent his life in the Army when it was still segregated, was as resistant as Faubus. He unwittingly hurt black audiences by referring to them as ``You people'' and told his speechwriter Emett Hughes, ``I personally think the Brown decision was wrong.'' He accepted it, believed in obeying the law but thought it would take 40 years to implement.

Moreover, when Allan Shivers, Governor of Texas, used Texas Rangers to halt school integration in his state, in 1956, Eisenhower had done nothing. Faubus, by contrast, had seen Arkansas become the first state in the Deep South to start integrating highereducation without a court order, and had been hailed by the national press in 1956 for devising a seven-year voluntary desegregation plan for its public school system.

This was all the more remarkable because eight other Southern states had by 1957 still taken no steps towards integration, while in the South as a whole 130 laws had been passed reinforcing segregation. Early in September 1957 Eisenhower signed a Civil Rights Act, but said he could imagine no circumstances in which he would have to use troops to enforce the law. Time - and Gene Faubus - were soon to show how wrong he was. A district federal court ordered the immediate desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, the state capital. White supremacists threatened vigilante action.

Faubus, up for re-election the following year, knew where the votes were. But he had good reason to fear widespread disorder, He tried legal measures to delay the court order, but then mobilised the National Guard, not to protect nine black teenagers whowere simply exercising their constitutional rights, but to prevent them entering Central High.

On 14 September Faubus saw President Eisenhower. Eisenhower told the governor to change his orders so that the National Guard would protect the teenage blacks, and persuaded him to change his statement that "It is certainly my intention to comply with the order that has been issued by the district court" to read "It is my desire . . ."

But Faubus refused to give the National Guard new orders, and, returning to Little Rock, complained that the President had treated him "like an ignorant country boy". A handful of Federal marshals could not cope with thousands of angry whites picketing Central High. So Eisenhower was reluctantly forced to federalise the National Guard and order 1,000 airborne troops to Little Rock to escort the nine new pupils to school at bayonet point.

As Faubus and Eisenhower had feared, this aroused resistance to integration in Arkansas and the entire South like nothing else. The troops remained until May 1958. In order to resist further integration, Faubus closed the public school system rather thanintegrate it, a strategy adopted by other Southern states such as neighbouring Alabama and Georgia.

They remained closed until 1959 and the effects of this were serious. A generation of blacks moving North in search of the vote and less vicious racism had virtually no High School education and so joined the ranks of the jobless. The effects on Faubus were benign. He was re-elected five times, more than any governor in Arkansas history, leaving office in 1967 but running unsuccessfully in 1970, 1974 and 1984, when he was defeated by Bill Clinton.

But it would be incorrect to write Faubus off, as he felt Eisenhower had, as an ignorant country boy. He was a Southern populist. He came from a poor background, and shared the prejudices of white Southerners of his time.

But he was a teacher, youth worker and the governor who improved the financial and welfare policy of one of the poorest states in the Union, and appointed the Republican Winthrop Rockefeller, his successor as governor, to bring investment to Arkansas. Hewasdecorated for bravery at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, and wrote six books, including an autobiography.

Patrick Renshaw

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future