three weeks after Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus abruptly derailed school desegregation in September 1957. Confident that the Negroes would be kept out by the cordon of Arkansas National Guardsmen surrounding the school, crowds of angry whites—many having no connection to the school or to Little Rock—arrived every morning to demonstrate their disapproval of integration. They watched white students enter the school and kept a watchful eye to make sure black students, though backed by a federal court order allowing them in, didn’t try to sneak in. White reporters and cameramen faced relentless heckling, physical taunts and spittle. Black reporters faced worse. The story had drawn many of the most experienced journalists in the black press, reporters who had braved the back roads of the South and pioneered civil rights coverage long before it caught on with the mainstream white press. But as they tried to penetrate the scene around the high school, they met scorn and stonewalling as National Guardsmen quickly moved them off the premises and away from the story.
On the warm Monday morning of Sept. 23, the integration stalemate broke and the story changed. The National Guard, following a federal court edict, had withdrawn. The white crowds stayed, however, leaving the school’s grounds and perimeter beyond the control of authorities. Black students on their way to the school in a station wagon were heading into an unpredictable mob scene.
At the same time, in a separate car, intent on witnessing and covering the moment firsthand, were four seasoned black newsmen. Their leader was the tall, dark-skinned and serious L. Alex Wilson, the editor and general manager of the Tri-State Defender of Memphis, Tennessee—the newspaper that was the southern outpost of the Chicago Defender, one of the foremost black newspapers in the United States. (Continue reading).