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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test