Elizabeth Eckford was born in Little Rock in 1942. Like most children in the Deep South, Eckford went to a segregated school. The states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky all prohibited black and white children from attending the same school.
In 1952 the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People appealed to the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that separate schools were acceptable as long as they were "separate and equal". It was not too difficult for the NAACP to provide information to show that black and white schools in the South were not equal.
After looking at information provided by the NAACP, the Supreme Court announced in 1954 that separate schools were not equal and ruled that they were therefore unconstitutional. Some states accepted the ruling and began to desegregate. However, several states in the Deep South, including Arkansas, refused to accept the judgment of the Supreme Court.
On 4th September, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford and eight other African American students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School, a school that previously had only accepted white children. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, was determined to ensure that segregation did not take place and sent the National Guard to stop the children from entering the school.
On 24th September, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower, went on television and told the American people: "At a time when we face grave situations abroad because of the hatred that communism bears towards 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 which the peoples of the world united to proclaim in the Charter of the United Nations."
After trying for eighteen days to persuade Orval Faubus to obey the ruling of the Supreme Court, Eisenhower decided to send federal troops to Arkansas to ensure that black children could go to Little Rock Central High School. The white population of Little Rock were furious that they were being forced to integrate their school and Faubus described the federal troops as an army of occupation. Elizabeth Eckford and the eight other African American children at the school suffered physical violence and constant racial abuse. Parents of four of the children lost their jobs because they had insisted in sending them to a white school. Eventually Orvel Faubus decided to close down all the schools in Little Rock.
In 1958 Elizabeth Eckford moved to St. Louis, Missouri where she achieved the necessary qualifications to study for a B.A. in history. After university she became the first African American in St. Louis to work in a bank in a non-janitorial position.
Elizabeth Eckford eventually moved back to Little Rock, Arkansas, and is now the mother of two sons.