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Daisy Lee Gatson Bates
Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was born on November 11, 1914. She grew up in southern Arkansas in the small sawmill town of Huttig. Bates was raised by her fathers friend. In "The Death of my Mother", Bates recounted learning as a child that her birth mother had been raped and murdered by three local white men. Learning of her mother's death and knowing that nothing was ever done about it fueled her anger.
Daisy's adoptive father Orlee Smith gave her some last advice while on his death bed.
He said, "You're filled with hatred. Hate can destroy you, Daisy. Don't hate white people just because they're white. 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 South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum—and then try to do something about it, or your hate won't spell a thing."
Bates said she had never forgotten that and it is from this memory that Bates claimed her strength for leadership came.
Her biological father left the family shortly after her mother's death and left her in the care of his closest friend. Lucious Christopher Bates, an insurance salesman who had also worked on newspapers in the South and West. Daisy was 15 when she started dating L. C. Daisy and her future husband moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1941. They dated for several months before they married on March 4, 1942.
In 1952, Daisy Bates was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP branches.
After their move to Little Rock, the Bates decided to act on a dream of theirs, the ownership of a newspaper. They leased a printing plant that belonged to a church publication and inaugurated the Arkansas State Press, a weekly statewide newspaper. The first issue appeared on May 9, 1941.
The Arkansas State Press was primarily concerned with advocacy journalism and was modeled off other African-American publications of the era, such as the Chicago Defender and The Crisis. Stories about civil rights often ran on the front page with the rest of the paper mainly filled with other stories that spotlighted achievements of black Arkansans. Pictures were also in abundance throughout the paper.
The paper became an avid voice for civil rights even before a nationally recognized movement had emerged. Daisy Bates was later recognized as co-publisher of the paper.
As the former president of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, Bates was involved deeply in desegregated events. Even though in 1954 the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education made all the segregated schools illegal, the schools in Arkansas refused to enroll African American students. Bates and her husband tried to fight against the situation in their newspaper. The state press became a fervent supporter of the NAACP’s integrated public school events. The State Press editorialized, “We feel that the proper approach would be for the leaders among the Negro race—not clabber mouths, Uncle Toms, or grinning appeasers to get together and counsel with the school heads.” Concerning the policy of academic desegregation, The State press cultivated a spirit of immediatism within the hearts of African American and white citizens. Opposite to gradual approach, this newspaper mainly wanted immediate reform in Arkansas’ educational system. The Arkansas State Press reported that the NAACP was the lead organizer in these protest events, and the newspaper also tended to enlarge national influence to let more people get involved in the educational events in Little Rock.
While Governor Orval Faubus and his supporters were refusing even token desegregation of Central High School, this editorial appeared on the front page:
“It is the belief of this paper that since the Negro’s loyalty to America has forced him to shed blood on foreign battle fields against enemies, to safeguard constitutional rights, he is in no mood to sacrifice these rights for peace and harmony at home”.
Throughout its existence, the Arkansas State Press covered all social news happening within the state. It was an avid supporter of racial integration in schools and thoroughly publicized its support in its pages. In 1957, because of its strong position during the Little Rock Segregation Crisis, white advertisers held another boycott to punish the newspaper for supporting desegregation. This boycott successfully cut off funding, except the money which came directly and through advertisements from the NAACP national office, and through ads from supporters throughout the country. Despite this the State Press was unable to maintain itself and the last issue was published on October 29, 1959.
Mrs. Daisy Bates immediately joined the local branch of the NAACP upon moving to Little Rock. In an interview she explains her history with the organization and that all her "dreams were tied with this organization". Her father was a member of the NAACP many years before and she recounts asking him why he joined the organization. She said her father would bring her back literature to read and after learning of their goals she decided to dedicate herself too.
In the same interview when asked what she and the organization were focused on changing, Bates responded "the whole darned system". However, it was after the Brown v. Board of Education decision that she began to focus mostly on education.
Bates became President of The Arkansas Conference of Branches in 1952 at the age of 38. She remained active and was on the National Board of the NAACP until 1970. Due to her position in NAACP, Bates' personal life was threatened much of time. In her Autobiography, Bates discussed her life as a president of the NAACP in Arkansas.
“As President of the NAACP State Conference of Branches and as the publicized leader of the integration movement in Arkansas, I was singled out for 'special treatment.' Two flaming crosses were burned on our property. The first, a six-foot gasoline-soaked structure, was stuck into our front lawn just after dusk. At the base of the cross was scrawled: “GO BACK TO AFRICA! KKK.” The second cross was placed against the front of our house, lit, and the flames began to catch. Fortunately, the fire was discovered by a neighbor and we extinguished it before any serious damage had been done.”
Bates and her husband were important figures in the African-American community in the capital city of Little Rock. They published a local black newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which publicized violations of the Supreme Court's desegregation rulings.
The plan for desegregating the schools of Little Rock was to be implemented in three phases, starting first with the senior and junior high schools, and then only after the successful integration of senior and junior schools would the elementary schools be integrated. After two years and still no progress, a suit was filed against the Little Rock School District in 1956. The court ordered the School Board to integrate the schools as of September 1957. "The battle for the soul of Little Rock had indeed begun, and Bates entered vigorously."
Realizing her intense involvement and dedication to education and school integration, Daisy was the chosen agent. After the nine black students were selected to attend Central High Mrs. Bates would be with them every step of the way.
As the leader of NAACP branch in Arkansas, Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they attempted to enroll in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School, a previously all-white institution. The students' attempts to enroll provoked a confrontation with Governor Orval Faubus, who called out the National Guard to prevent their entry. The guard only let the white students to pass the school gate. Eight students out of the nine were asked to go back home. But a student called Elizabeth Eckford who didn’t receive the message from Daisy Bates last night met a mob, when she was trying to find other eight students in that morning. White mobs met at the outside of the school school and threatened to kill the black students; these mobs harassed not only activists but also northern journalists who came to cover the story.
Bates used her organizational skills to plan a way for the nine students to get into Central High. She planned for ministers to escort the children into the school, two in front of the children and two behind. She thought that not only would they help protect the children physically but having ministers accompany them would "serve as powerful symbols against the bulwark of segregation." Bates continued with her task of helping the nine enroll in school. She spoke with their parents several times throughout the day to make sure they knew what was going on. She joined the parent-teacher organization, even though she did not have a student enrolled in school. She was persistent and realized that she needed to dominate the situation in order to succeed.
Bates was a pivotal figure in that seminal moment of the Civil Rights Movement. Osro Cobb, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas refers in his memoirs to her, accordingly: