Orval Eugene Faubus was born in Arkansas on 7th January 1910. His father, Sam Faubus, was an active member of the Socialist Party and gave his son the middle name Eugene after one of his heroes, Eugene Debs. As a child Faubus was told by his father that "capitalism was a fraud and that both poor whites and blacks were its victims".
Faubus trained to be a teacher at Commonwealth College in Arkansas. He became interested in politics and joined the Democratic Party. Despite his upbringing by a racially tolerant socialist, Faubus became increasingly right-wing in his views.
During the Second World War Faubus joined the United States Army and rose to the rank of major in Army Intelligence. After the war he returned home and continued in politics, becoming the State Highway Commissioner.
In 1954 Faubus ran for governor as a liberal promising to increase spending on schools and roads. Although portrayed as a "dangerous radical", Faubus was successfully elected. In the first few months of his administration Faubus desegregated state buses and public transportation. He also began to investigate the possibility of introducing multi-racial schools. This resulted in him being attacked by Jim Johnson, the leader of the right-wing of the party in Arkansas.
Faubus later told a journalist working for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that "it is true in politics as it is in life that survival is the first law.". Fearing he would lose office Faubus decided to fight the decision by the Supreme Court in 1954 that separate schools were not equal and were therefore unconstitutional.
In 1957, Faubus used the National Guard to stop black children from attending the Little Rock Central High 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."
After trying for eighteen days to persuade 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.
Faubus was elected governor of Arkansas six times and served in the post for twelve years. After the 1965 Voting Act, making it easier for African Americans to vote, Faubus political career came to an end. Attempts in 1970, 1974 and 1986 all ended in failure. Orval Faubus died of cancer in December 1994.
(1) Daisy Bates was president of the Arkansas NAACP. She wrote about the struggle to bring an end to school segregation in her book, The Long Shadow of Little Rock (1962).
Faubus' alleged reason for calling out the troops was that he had received information that caravans of automobiles filled with white supremacists were heading toward Little Rock from all over the state. He therefore declared Central High School off limits to Negroes. For some inexplicable reason he added that Horace Mann, a Negro high school, would be off limits to whites.
Then, from the chair of the highest office of the State of Arkansas, Governor Orval Eugene Faubus delivered the infamous words, "blood will run in the streets" if Negro pupils should attempt to enter Central High School.
In a half dozen ill-chosen words, Faubus made his contribution to the mass hysteria that was to grip the city of Little Rock for several months.
The citizens of Little Rock gathered on September 3 to gaze upon the incredible spectacle of an empty school building surrounded by 250 National Guard troops. At about eight fifteen in the morning, Central students started passing through the line of national guardsmen - all but the nine Negro students.
I had been in touch with their parents throughout the day. They were confused, and they were frightened. As the parents
voiced their fears, they kept repeating Governor Faubus' words that "blood would run in the streets of Little Rock" should their teenage children try to attend Central - the school to which they had been assigned by the school board.
(2) President Dwight Eisenhower, television broadcast on Little Rock (24th September, 1957)
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.
(3) Orval Faubus was interviewed about the Little Rock crisis after he retired by Jack Bass and Walter DeVries.
Q: How about the decision in 1957 to refuse admittance to black students?
Faubus: It was the only way to keep some black people from being killed. As one black leader said to me in this campaign, he said "Well, Governor Faubus, you probably saved more black lives than you did white lives."
Q: The assertion though is that you based that decision on the evidence from the school principal and him alone.
Faubus: Oh no, I had much evidence. But my first information came from the school principal, or superintendent rather.
Q: You were convinced that that evidence was hard and real?
Faubus: Yes. Wasn't any question about it. I confirmed it from too many sources. And I was trained in intelligence during the war and part of my duties, all during combat, was what you call military intelligence. So you learn something about how to evaluate. You know, how to discount, and how to check something if you're not sure. Sometimes you get a piece of information that sounds fantastic and you think this can't be true and you check it out and find it is. So there's not any question in my mind, none whatsoever.
Q: Did you have police reports, police intelligence reports on that? You never revealed that.
Faubus: No, because the people didn't want it.
Q: No, but I mean since that time you've never revealed that.
Faubus: No, I haven't. I think I'm going to write a book and reveal it then but I can reveal it anytime I want to now.
Q: Did you realize at the time, though, that this would amount in effect, to defiance of a court order and what would subsequently follow?
Faubus: No, see I never did defy a court order. When they issued a court order directly to me I evaded each time. I never was in defiance of a court order.
Q: Wasn't there a court order to admit the students?
Faubus: But I wasn't trying to keep them from integrating. If it had been peaceful they could have gone right on in.
(4) Article on Orval Faubus in the New York Times on 15th December 1994.
Mr. Faubus has always said his actions at Central High were misunderstood, and his motives may never be fully known. But many historians believe that in facing a challenge on the right and a constituency uneasy about integration, and needing an issue to divert attention from his tax increase, he decided to draw the line with Washington over desegregation.
Last year, in an interview with The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Mr. Faubus danced around the question of what his motives were, only to conclude: "It's true in politics as it is in life that survival is the first law." And he added: "One of my black friends came in during 1957 and said, 'Governor, if you hadn't done something, you'd have been a goner.' Voted out."
Whatever the case, on Sept. 2, 1957, after a Federal court ordered the desegregation of the Little Rock schools, Mr. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High. In a radio broadcast he assured white listeners and warned blacks that the school would be "off limits" to blacks.
He said at the time that he acted because he had been told that caravans of white toughs were preparing to descend on Little Rock, and that he intervened to prevent violence. He never disclosed who had told him about the impending violence, and many skeptics say it was only a pretext.