Daisy Gatson Bates, 1914-1999

  • Daisy-Gatson-Bates-WWP

Woman Category: MediaWoman Tags: African-American Women and Journalist

  • HerStory

    A civil rights activist, journalist, and publisher. Played a key role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.

    Daisy Bates was born in Huttig, Arkansas. When she was 3 years old, her mother was murdered, and she moved in with her mother’s friends. She never saw her father again. Her foster father introduced her to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, gave her reading material about racism and discrimination against African-Americans, which she learned firsthand while learning in the segregated public schools of Huttig. When she got older and found out that her mother was raped and killed by three white men and that the police had no interest in finding the murderers, Bates became vengeful and full of hatred toward white people. Her foster father’s words guided her actions throughout her life- “Hate can destroy you…If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman…and then try to do something about it…”
    At the age of 15, soon after her foster father died, she met Lucius Christopher Bates, an insurance salesman who was ten years older than her. She joined him on his travel in the South, and eventually, they settled down in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bates became an active member of the NAACP’s local branch and a few years later became its president.
    Upon their arrival to Little Rock, the Bates established a newspaper – The Arkansas State Press. The paper was dedicated to economic and social improvements for the African-American community, focusing mainly on civil rights issues and highlighting achievement stories of black Arkansans. In 1954, the Supreme Court determined that segregated schools are unconstitutional. Bates used her newspaper to promote the desegregation of the Arkansas educational system. In 1957, three years later, not one school in the state had taken any measure to implement the court decision.
    Bates selected nine students to enroll in the all-white Little Rock Central High School. She supported the students in the enrollment process and later while they attended the school, driving them to school and protecting them from the racist mob that blocked their way. During the events that later will be referred to as the Little Rock Integration Crisis, Bates and the Little Rock Nine faced not only the object of the white students’ parents but also the Arkansas governor, who ordered the National Guard to keep them out of the property. At the time, Bates was constantly receiving death threats, rocks at her home, and bullet shells in her mailbox. The Arkansas State Press was also influenced by its owner’s actions, boycotted by its white advertisers, and gradually losing funding. Eventually, the newspaper had to shut down, publishing its last issue at the end of 1959. Finally, in 1960, after a year in which all the public schools in Little Rock were closed in a mission to prevent desegregation, Bates and the Little Rock Nine were escorted into the school. She continued to side by the Little Rock Nine through their years in school, joining the parent-teacher organization and accompanying them whenever they needed, making sure that they have everything they need to graduate.
    During this time, Bates was chosen by Martin Luther King Jr. to serve in his executive committee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). At the age of 46, after the Little Rock success, Bates moved to NYC, where she wrote her autobiography, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, published in 1962. Two years later, she relocated to Washington, D.C, to work for the Democratic National Committee’s Voter Education Drive, as well as for President Johnson’s antipoverty programs. At 51, after suffering a stroke, she returned to Little Rock for a few years before moving to the mainly black community of Mitchellville, Arkansas. There, she founded the Mitchellville Office of Equal Opportunity Self Help program, in which she worked on improving the community’s public services, such as new water and sewer systems, street pavements, and building a community center. In 1984, at the age of 70, Bates reopened the Arkansas State Press and published it for four years before it was sold in 1988. She died in Little Rock at the age of 85.

    “No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies”

    “No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Daisy Gatson Bates Day is an official state holiday in Arkansas celebrated on the third Monday in February.
    • Her house in Little Rock, Arkansas, is a National Historic Landmark and can be visited with a guided tour.
    • Little Rock Nine Memorial is located on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.
    • She served on the National Board of the NAACP until her 50s.
    • The Daisy Bates Elementary School is named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas (1980)
    * Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (1984)
    * The Congressional Gold Medal (1999)
    * Honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Independent Lens | Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock | Trailer | PBS

    As a black woman who was a feminist before the term was invented, Daisy Bates refused to accept her assigned place in society. Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock tells the story of her life and public support of nine black students who registered to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which culminated in a constitutional crisis, pitting a president against a governor and a community against itself. Unconventional, revolutionary, and egotistical, Daisy Bates reaped the rewards of instant fame, but paid dearly for it. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/daisy-bates/

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  • Citations and Additional References:
    Biography.com website.
    Southern Living website.