School desegregation is a fact in Little Rock and – because of Little Rock – in many other Southern cities, but Daisy Bates, who played a key role in making it all possible, is forgotten by the public.
(Negro Digest/May 1962) She was the unlikeliest of heroes. There she was, young and comely, as trim and chic as a model in a magazine advertisement. At the most prosaic, it was easy to picture her as a youthful matron, dainty and decorative, waiting in her well-appointed home for the man who adored her to come in from his labors.
When the Little Rock crisis reached fever pitch in the fall of 1957 and people across the world were wondering about the woman called Daisy Bates, writers were turning out reams of copy in an effort to describe her. In her native Arkansas, of course, she was pictured as a fire-breathing, Red-lining witch and called every vile name printable and a few names which, in a truly civilized society, are not printable at all.
But other writers were more objective. Seeking to satisfy the curiosity about the woman who had turned the nation upside down, a United Press correspondent described Daisy Bates as “a businesslike woman of 35” and went on in a kind of awe to list the measurements Of her slim figure. “She wears her black hair in a casual bob, sometimes covering part of her forehead,” he wrote, adding: “Newsmen find little trouble talking to her.”
For readers of the Minneapolis Tribune, the famed Negro journalist Carl T. Rowan was more to the point: “Actually, she is a typical Negro housewife—different from the average American woman, perhaps, primarily in that she prefers poker to bridge and has become expert with a rifle.”
Inherent in Rowan’s description is the suggestion that, had the wanton finger of Fate pointed at many another Negro woman, the results would have been pretty much the same. There is nothing in this suggestion to detract from the extraordinary achievement of Daisy Lee Bates. Rather, there is something in it of commendation for all the millions of Negro women who have borne with uncommon fortitude the burden of their culture’s cruelty and of their men’s helpless despair.
If Daisy Bates is typical of her kind, then she proved a splendid example. Never once in her long and barbarous ordeal was there a public moment of faltering or re- treat. If there had not been private ones, then she would have been more than human, and Daisy Bates is very human indeed.(more…)