Study Guide

Orval Faubus in Executive Order 10730: Little Rock Nine

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

Orval Faubus

Orval Eugene Faubus was ambitious as all get out.

Born in a log cabin in the Ozark Mountains, Faubus longed for something more than the hard life of a hill-country subsistence farmer.

From an early age, Faubus' parents encouraged his interest in education. His parents weren't fans of capitalism, and they named Orval Eugene after Eugene Debs, the union-leader hero and five-time Presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America. Faubus attended a left-leaning college and gravitated towards the Democratic Party—a pretty progressive beginning for someone who would end up being best remembered as a reactionary bigot. (Source)

The Good

After college, Faubus taught school in several small mountain communities, but got tired of being poor and soon found that politics offered more opportunities. A big believer in Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Faubus ran for office in 1938 and won election as a Democrat as the circuit clerk for Madison County.

After serving with distinction as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army in World War II at the rank of major (he fought in the European Theater, where you-know-who was Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces), Faubus returned to Arkansas and jumped right back into politics. He and his wife bought the town newspaper in Huntsville and he served as the local postmaster. The editorials he wrote for the paper got the attention of government officials. Faubus eventually was appointed as an aide in the governor's office, where he made powerful connections that furthered his political career.

Faubus won an improbable victory against the incumbent governor in 1954. In his years in office, he put together an overall progressive record that reflected his New Deal roots. He increased spending on state roads and schools, improved care for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, and supported unemployment compensation and pensions. He hired several African Americans to work in his government and made sure that historically Black colleges received state financial support. (Source)

At first, Faubus was supportive of early integration efforts in the state's colleges and universities and in public transportation—at least, he didn't actively oppose them. When segregationists asked the state to prevent the integration of public schools in the wake of the Brown decision, Faubus refused. So far, so good. Then came the 1956 gubernatorial election.

The Bad

Faubus won a second term, but segregationists had attacked his record on integration. A moderate stance on race relations was sure to sink Faubus' political future. So when the Little Rock school board moved ahead with its plan to integrate Central High School in 1957, Faubus reversed course and called out the National Guard to keep nine Black students from attending the all-white school.

Eisenhower, on vacation in Rhode Island, sent off a warning telegram. He then invited Faubus up to Newport for a little sit-down during which he warned the governor that there was no way he was going to win this battle. Ike assumed that Faubus would back down, and sent him home to Arkansas.

The Ugly

Faubus did not back down.

He continued to defy the court order to integrate the schools and allowed the situation to get way out of hand. It took the mayor of Little Rock to ask for the president's help to quell the violence. We know the rest: it took thousands of National Guardsmen and soldiers to get the Little Rock Nine to school.

After Eisenhower made good on his promise and sent in the troops, Faubus continued to try during the school year to get rid of the Little Rock Nine. When it became clear that wasn't going to happen, he made a radical move: he closed down the all the city's high schools. Nobody, Black or white, went to high school in Little Rock until 1959. In a 1958 speech to the good people of Arkansas, he warned against "those who would integrate our schools at any price."

And what was that price, according to Faubus? Well, the destruction of the school system, for starters, followed by the death of the southern way of life, and finally, the end of liberty and freedom. He noted that there was no law mandating that a city has to have public schools, so he was within his rights to shut them down. Furthermore, since the Brown decision could be read as only applying to public schools, students—white students, presumably—could go to a public high school in another town or parents could form private schools. He thanked the parents and students of Little Rock for their great sacrifice in losing a year of school so liberty could prevail in Arkansas.

Faubus rammed through a referendum on the issue, and the voters of Little Rock chose to shutter the schools for the entire 1958-9 school year.

Faubus's anti-integration stance move may saved his political career; he went on to hold a record six terms as Arkansas' governor. But his name became synonymous with segregation, and the positive contributions he made to the state were largely forgotten.

#EpicFail