Little Rock on Trial: Cooper v. Aaron and School Desegregation

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Overview

Americans were riveted to their television sets in 1957, when a violent mob barred black students from entering Little Rock's Central High School and faced off against paratroopers sent by a reluctant President Eisenhower. That set off a firestorm of protest throughout the nation and ultimately led to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Cooper v. Aaron, reaffirming Brown v. Board of Education's mandate for school integration "with all deliberate speed" and underscoring the supremacy of federal and constitutional authority over state law.

Noted scholar Tony Freyer, arguably our nation's top authority on this subject, now provides a concise, lucid, and eminently teachable summary of that historic case and shows that it paved the way for later civil rights victories. He chronicles how the Little Rock school board sought court approval to table integration efforts and how the black community brought suit against the board's watered-down version of compliance. The board's request was denied by a federal appeals court and taken to the Supreme Court, where the unanimous ruling in Cooper reaffirmed federal law-but left in place the maddening ambiguities of "all deliberate speed."

While other accounts have focused on the showdown on the schoolhouse steps, Freyer takes readers into the courts to reveal the centrality of black citizens' efforts to the origins and outcome of the crisis. He describes the work of the Little Rock NAACP-with its Legal Defense Fund led by Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton-in defining the issues and abandoning gradualism in favor of direct confrontation with the segregationist South. He also includes the previously untold account ofJustice William Brennan's surprising influence upon Justice Felix Frankfurter's controversial concurring opinion, which preserved his own "deliberate speed" wording from Brown.

With Cooper, the "well-morticed high wall" of segregation had finally cracked. As the most important test of Brown, which literally contained the means to thwart its own intent, it presaged the civil rights movement's broader nonviolent mass action combining community mobilization and litigation to finally defeat Jim Crow. It was not only a landmark decision, but also a turning point in America's civil rights struggle.

This book is part of the Landmark Law Cases and American Society series.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700615360
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 7/31/2007
  • Series: Landmark Law Cases and American Society
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 274
  • Sales rank: 1,351,966
  • Product dimensions: 13.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony A. Freyer is University Research Professor of History and Law at the University of Alabama. He is the author of more than ten books, including The Little Rock Crisis, and served as a consultant on that subject for the documentary Eyes on the Prize.
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Table of Contents


Editors' Preface     vii
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction     1
The Little Rock NAACP Decision to Sue, 1954-1956     13
Aaron v. Cooper: Rights at Bay, 1956-1957     47
The Crisis Erupts, 1957     89
Cooper v. Aaron: Delay Won and Appealed, 1957-1958     135
The Cooper v. Aaron Opinions: Unanimity and Division, 1958     169
Protean Precedent since 1958     202
Epilogue     232
Chronology     239
Bibliographic Essay     245
Index     255
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