Court Orders Must Be Upheld
September 24, 1957
Good Evening, My Fellow Citizens:
For a few minutes this evening I want to speak to you
about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock.
To make this talk I have come to the President's office
in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island,
where I have been staying recently, but I felt that, in
speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson,
my words would better convey both the sadness I feel in
the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness
with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders
of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists,
disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying
out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities
have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under
the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon
the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central
High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of
again preventing the carrying out of the Court's order
relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task
and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the
Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold
Federal Courts, the President's responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued
an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal
authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little
Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation
of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice
It is important that the reasons for my action be understood
by all our citizens. As you know, the Supreme Court of
the United States has decided that separate public educational
facilities for the races are inherently unequal and therefore
compulsory school segregation laws are unconstitutional.
Our personal opinions about the decision have no bearing
on the matter of enforcement; the responsibility and authority
of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution are
very clear. Local Federal Courts were instructed by the
Supreme Court to issue such orders and decrees as might
be necessary to achieve admission to public schools without
regard to race-and with all deliberate speed.
During the past several years, many communities in our
Southern States have instituted public school plans for
gradual progress in the enrollment and attendance of school
children of all races in order to bring themselves into
compliance with the law of the land.
They thus demonstrated to the world that we are a nation
in which laws, not men, are supreme.
I regret to say that this truth - the cornerstone of our
liberties - was not observed in this instance.
It was my hope that this localized situation would be
brought under control by city and State authorities. If
the use of local police powers had been sufficient, our
traditional method of leaving the problems in those hands
would have been pursued. But when large gatherings of obstructionists
made it impossible for the decrees of the Court to be carried
out, both the law and the national interest demanded that
the President take action.
Here is the sequence of events in the development of the
Little Rock school case.
In May of 1955, the Little Rock School Board approved
a moderate plan for the gradual desegregation of the public
schools in that city. It provided that a start toward integration
would be made at the present term in the high school, and
that the plan would be in full operation by 1963. Here
I might say that in a number of communities in Arkansas
integration in the schools has already started and without
violence of any kind. Now this Little Rock plan was challenged
in the courts by some who believed that the period of time
as proposed in the plan was too long.
The United States Court at Little Rock, which has supervisory
responsibility under the law for the plan of desegregation
in the public schools, dismissed the challenge, thus approving
a gradual rather than an abrupt change from the existing
system. The court found that the school board had acted
in good faith in planning for a public school system free
from racial discrimination.
Since that time, the court has on three separate occasions
issued orders directing that the plan be carried out. All
persons were instructed to refrain from interfering with
the efforts of the school board to comply with the law.
Proper and sensible observance of the law then demanded
the respectful obedience which the nation has a right to
expect from all its people. This, unfortunately, has not
been the case at Little Rock. Certain misguided persons,
many of them imported into Little Rock by agitators, have
insisted upon defying the law and have sought to bring
it into disrepute. The orders of the court have thus been
The very basis of our individual rights and freedoms rests
upon the certainty that the President and the Executive
Branch of Government will support and insure the carrying
out of the decisions of the Federal Courts, even, when
necessary with all the means at the President's command.
Unless the President did so, anarchy would result.
There would be no security for any except that which each
one of us could provide for himself.
The interest of the nation in the proper fulfillment of
the law's requirements cannot yield to opposition and demonstrations
by some few persons.
Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of
Now, let me make it very clear that Federal troops are
not being used to relieve local and state authorities of
their primary duty to preserve the peace and order of the
community. Nor are the troops there for the pun pose of
taking over the responsibility of the School Board and
the other responsible local officials in running Central
High School. The running of our school system and the maintenance
of peace and order in each of our States are strictly local
affairs and the Federal Government does not interfere except
in a very few special cases and when requested by one of
the several r States. In the present case the troops are
there, pursuant to law, solely for the purpose of preventing
interference with the orders of the Court.
The proper use of the powers of the Executive Branch to
enforce the orders of a Federal Court is limited to extraordinary
and compelling circumstances. Manifestly, such an extreme
situation has been created in Little Rock. This challenge
must be met and with such measures as will preserve to
the people as a whole their lawfully-protected rights in
a climate permitting their free and fair exercise. The
overwhelming majority of our people in every section of
the country are united in their respect for observance
of the law - even in those cases where they may disagree
with that law.
They deplore the call of extremists to violence.
The decision of the Supreme Court concerning school integration,
of course, affects the South more seriously than it does
other sections of the country. In that region I have many
warm friends, some of them in the city of Little Rock.
I have deemed it a great personal privilege to spend in
our Southland tours of duty while in the military service
and enjoyable recreational periods since that time.
So from intimate personal knowledge, I know that the overwhelming
majority of the people in the South including those of
Arkansas and of Little Rock - are of good will, united
in their efforts to preserve and respect the law even when
they disagree with it.
They do not sympathize with mob rule. They, like the rest
of our nation, have proved in two great wars their readiness
to sacrifice for America.
A foundation of our American way of life is our national
respect for law.
In the South, as elsewhere, citizens are keenly aware
of the tremendous disservice that has been done to the
people of Arkansas in the eyes of the nation, and that
has been done to the nation in the eyes of the world.
At a time when we face grave situations abroad because
of the hatred that Communism bears toward a system of government
based on human rights, it would be difficult to exaggerate
the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence,
and indeed to the safety, of our nation and the world.
Our enemies are gloating
over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent
our whole nation. We are portrayed as a violator of those
standards of conduct which the peoples of the world united
to proclaim in the Charter of the United Nations. There
they affirmed "faith
in fundamental human rights" and "in dignity
and worth of the human person" and they did so "without
distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."
And so, with deep confidence, I call upon the citizens
of the State of Arkansas to assist in bringing to an immediate
end all interference with the law and its processes. If
resistance to the Federal Court orders ceases at once,
the further presence of Federal troops will be unnecessary
and the City of Little Rock will return to its normal habits
of peace and order and a blot upon the fair name and high
honor of our nation in the world will be removed.
Thus will be restored the image of America and of all
its parts as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all.
Good night, and thank you very much.