Rendezvous with Destiny: The 101st Airborne and the Central High Crisis of 1957
On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court Ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal” in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. As a result of that ruling, nine African-American students enrolled at Little Rock Central High school in September of 1957. The ensuing struggles between segregationists and integrationists, the state of Arkansas and the federal government, and between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, have become known as the “Little Rock Crisis” and received worldwide attention.
When Governor Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School and prevent nine African-American students from entering, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to ensure their safety. As Governor Faubus defied the federal court decision on integration, one-thousand troops joined the federalized National Guard units to prevent civil disturbances. On duty at Central High over the next 34 days, the troops responded to bomb scares, mob attacks, and charges by the governor that men had invaded the girl’s dressing room. The Little Rock Crisis was the first use of the 101st Airborne in a civil rights incident. The men of the Division performed a difficult task with the discipline and dignity that earmark the 101st Airborne soldier.
The 101st Airborne Division was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana on August 15, 1942, under the command of Major General William C. Lee. Shortly after formation, Lee told recruits their unit had no history but "it has a rendezvous with destiny.” True to his words the 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the Screaming Eagles, soon had an impressive history. The first Allied soldiers on the battlefield at the Battle of Normandy, the 101st Airborne Division played an important role in securing bridges and other terrain as a prelude for the amphibious forces that soon followed. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st was one of the only forces available to stop the German advance. In response to the enemy’s demand for their surrender, Airborne’s Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe remarked, “To the German Commander: Nuts! - the American Commander.” The division fought until the siege was lifted and the German advance halted. For their efforts during WWII the division was awarded four campaign streamers and two Presidential Unit Citations.