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Dwight D. Eisenhower 1957 Typed Letter Signed as President – Discussing Federal Role in Education in the Midst of the Little Rock Crisis

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34th President.  Two-page typed letter signed (TLS) “Dwight D. Eisenhower” AS PRESIDENT, September 12, 1957, 7×10.5, The White House Washington stationery, sent from Newport, Rhode Island, overflowing with incredible content about the role of the federal government in education while in the midst of the Little Rock crisis and just 2 days before meeting with Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus in Newport, in full:

Your recent letter is most interesting.  I completely agree with you in your argument that our greatest asset is providing for our national security is the inner security that comes to citizens through a comprehension of today’s problems and a feeling of confidence in grappling with them.  This means education.

Nevertheless, your letter does not get to the heart of the problem involved in correction of the existing situation.  Certainly no one in this country wants to ‘save money’ at the expense of the education of our children, but your letter seems to imply that the matter lies exclusively with the Federal government.  The fact is that many states are stoutly opposed to any entry of the Federal government into school affairs, maintaining that the final result would be Federal control of education.  This, of course, would be a calamity.

While I do not believe that such centralized control would accompany Federal aid that would be confined to emergency construction of the necessary school buildings, yet it is clear that primary responsibility for the schools in our country properly devolves upon local and state authorities.

This Administration will continue to stand for leadership and aid to the states in making good the great school room deficiencies that have resulted — partially at least — from national calamities such as two great wars and a great depression.  The necessary conditions to such a Federal program are, I think, distribution of Federal funds on the basis of need and the certainty that the Federal government will withdraw from the field the instant critical construction needs have been met.

But this is not enough.  You should look in the first instance to your local school authorities and to your state officials to see that operation, maintenance and support of schools are adequate in every way to copy with the needs of our youngsters.  The Federal government’s efforts in this line should be largely confined to the field I have suggested above.  I believe that in this field the Congress should give generous and prompt authorization for funds.

I repeat that it is encouraging to read a letter from someone who realizes so fully that in the broader and better education of our young is to be found the source of the increasing greatness of our country.

Mailing folds, slight running of ink to first letter in signature.

In 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School was a key civil rights battleground as 9 Black students entered the previously all-White school under federal troop escort. Under federal court order, the Little Rock School District prepared to admit Black students to Central High School. On Sept. 2, 1957, Gov. Orval Faubus announced he would use National Guard troops to “prevent violence” and prohibit the students from entering the school. On Sept. 4, 10 Black students were turned away by troops, all denied entry for the next 2 weeks. On Sept. 5, the school board requested suspension of its desegregation plan, denied by federal judge Davies on Sept. 7. On Sept. 14, Gov. Faubus met with President Eisenhower to try to resolve the situation. On Sept. 20, Judge Davies ordered the National Guard removed. Little Rock police tried to maintain order as 8 Black students entered Central High and rioting broke out. Police lost control and the students had to be smuggled out the back of the school for their safety. Calling the rioting “disgraceful,” President Eisenhower ordered units of the Army’s 101st Airborne Div. into Little Rock and federalized the Arkansas National Guard. On Sept. 25, under federal troop escort, 9 Black students entered Central High for their 1st full day of classes. Federal troops remained during the school year. On May 25, 1958, Ernest Green became the 1st Black Central High School graduate.

An overflowing letter from Eisenhower discussing the role of the Federal government in education and schools while directly involved in the situation in Little Rock.