Woodrow Wilson Mann, the son of a businessman, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on 13th November, 1916. After graduating from the University of Illinois, he joined the United States Navy and served on the staff of Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Pacific.
In 1945 went into the insurance business. A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected as mayor of Little Rock in 1955. A supporter of reform, Mann installed a new integrated bus system within six months of gaining office. He also overturned Jim Crow rules that forced blacks to use cups at the City Hall water fountains and doubled the number of black policeman in the city.
The Supreme Court had 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 refused to accept this judgment. On 3rd September 1957, the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, used the National Guard to stop black children from attending the local high school in Little Rock. Mann disagreed with this decision and on 4th September telegraphed President Dwight Eisenhower and asked him to send federal troops to Little Rock.
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 order paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division, to protect black children going 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 other eight African American students that entered 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 Orval Faubus decided to close down all the schools in Little Rock.
Mann and his family received death threats and Klu Klux Klan crosses were burnt on his front lawn. When his term as mayor ended in 1958 he was forced to leave Little Rock and moved to Dallas where he returned to the insurance business. Woodrow Wilson Mann died on 6th August 2002.