Federal troops are called in to escort students attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.)
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education struck down racial segregation in public schools. In March 1956, 101 of 128 Southern congressmen signed “The Southern Manifesto,” denouncing the decision. Many Southern communities followed their lead, resisting integration with protest and violence.
When the school board of Mansfield, Texas, a farming town of 1500 people, admitted 12 black students to all-white Mansfield High School, white residents took to the streets in protest. On August 30, 1956, the first day of school, mobs of white pro-segregationists patrolled the streets with guns and other weapons to prevent black children from registering.
The mob hung an African American effigy at the top of the school’s flag pole and set it on fire. Attached to each pant leg was a sign. One read, “This Negro tried to enter a white school. This would be a terrible way to die,” and the other read, “Stay away, niggers.” A second effigy was hung on the front of the school building. Soon afterward, the Mansfield School Board voted to “exhaust all legal remedies to delay segregation.” In December 1956, the United States Supreme Court ordered the Mansfield school district to integrate immediately, but Mansfield public schools did not officially desegregate until 1965.
Violent opposition and resistance to desegregation was common throughout the country. In August 1967, more than 13 years after the Brown decision, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that “violence against Negroes continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.”