Memo on desegregation of American public schools, 1955

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Document: Memo from British Ambassador on segregation in US public schools, 8 December 1955. Catalogue ref: FO 371/114445

Description: This September marks the 65th anniversary of the day in 1957 that the 'Little Rock Nine' were able to successfully start attending Little Rock High School, after weeks of being blocked from entering.

The 'Little Rock Nine' were a group of nine African American teenagers who were to be the first Black students to attend Little Rock High School on 1 September 1957. This was three years after the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were illegal in 1954. However, the Arkansas governor ordered the state's National Guard to block them from entering, and angry mobs threatened their safety. It was only on 25 September 1957, after president Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to accompany them, that they were able to start attending classes.

This month's featured document comes from 1955, one year after the 1954 ruling. On 31 May 1955, the Supreme Court issued a new ruling: an order for schools to integrate with 'deliberate speed', as many all-white schools were failing to integrate. The document provides a contemporary view from the UK on the process of desegregation and the complications surrounding it. It also arguably provides some foreshadowing of the events at Little Rock, noting that the ruling has 'exacerbated' racism in the South.

Please note this source includes racist language and is presented here to accurately represent a historical narrative. This language wasn’t acceptable at the time and isn’t acceptable today.

Read a transcript of this document here:

Read another document about the Little Rock Nine here:

Learn more about the history of Civil Rights in the United States in our 'Civil Rights in America' resource:


Owner: The National Archives UK
Source: Flickr Commons
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