Black History Month

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“The man who never makes a mistake always takes orders from one who does. No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies.”

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (November 11, 1914 – November 4, 1999) was an American civil rights activist, publisher, journalist, and lecturer who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.

Born in 1914 in Huttig Arkansas, Daisy Bates was raised by family friends after losing her mother to a race-related crime. By the 1940s, Mrs. Bates was married to L.C. Bates, living in Little Rock, and working at the couple’s paper, Arkansas State Press, a leading source for news and information about the civil rights movement. Ten years later, Mrs. Bates was elected President of the Arkansas State Conference of NAACP branches, from where she became the spokesperson and advocate for the Little Rock Nine.

In 1952, Daisy Bates was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP branches. During the Little Rock Integration crisis in 1957, the paper was boycotted by white advertisers. The State Press was unable to maintain itself despite financial support by the NAACP. The last issue was published on October 29, 1959.

In 1960, Daisy Bates moved to New York City and wrote her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Then Bates moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for the Democratic National Committee. She also served in the administration of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson working on anti-poverty programs. In 1965, she suffered a stroke and returned to Little Rock.

Bates revived the Arkansas State Press in the 1980s after L.C. Bates, her husband, died in 1980. In 1986, , the University of Arkansas Press republished The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which became the first reprinted edition ever to earn an American Book Award.

The following year she sold the newspaper, but continued to act as a consultant. Little Rock paid perhaps the ultimate tribute, not only to Bates but to the new era she helped initiate, by opening the Daisy Bates Elementary School and by making the third Monday in February George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day an official state holiday.

Daisy Gatson Bates was the recipient of numerous awards and honors. She was named woman of the year in 1957 by the National Council of Negro Women. The year following her retirement, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a resolution commending her for her outstanding service to the citizens of Arkansas. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in May of 1984.

She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. In 2000, the home of Daisy and L.C. Bates was listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is located at 1207 West 28th Street and owned by the Little Rock Christian Ministerial Alliance. Little Rock also has a lasting legacy to the civil rights activist with a street named in her honor in the heart of the city – Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive (formerly 14th Street).

In 2012 Filmmaker Sharon La Cruise produced and directed a documentary film about Bates. Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock premiered February 2, 2012 as part of the Independent Lens series on PBS.

Bates died in Little Rock on November 4, 1999.

Further Information:

  • Mark Pryor, the United States Senator for Arkansas honors Daisy Gatson Bates in his newsletter this month.
  • Honoring Daisy Lee Gatson Bates
  • A Woman Who Knew the Meaning of “Do Justly, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly”

At a time when our society expected women to remain quietly in the background, Mrs. Daisy Bates took center stage in the fight for freedom and equality. In the fall of 1972, when I enrolled in the Little Rock School District, I saw the start of city-wide busing—a change which came about in large part because of the courage of Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine. This experience—among others—shaped my appreciation for the civil rights movement and those like Daisy Bates who fought for liberty for all.

In many ways, I believe that Mrs. Bates lived the words of Micah 6:8, “to do justly, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Her courage and conviction not only influenced me, but the lives of countless others in our state and nation. With Daisy Gatson Bates Day and her 100th birthday this year, I’ve introduced a resolution to honor her leadership and help us remember her legacy as true American heroine.

Thank you, Mrs. Bates

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