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

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments