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INDEPENDENT LENS: Daisy Bates: First Lady Of Little Rock

Airs Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Daisy Bates in Memphis, 1958.

In 1957, Daisy Bates became a household name when she fought for the right of nine black students to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bates's public support culminated in a constitutional crisis — pitting a president against a governor and a community against itself.

Daisy Bates with students from the Little Rock Nine.
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Above: Daisy Bates with students from the Little Rock Nine.

Daisy Bates picketing in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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Above: Daisy Bates picketing in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Daisy Bates in a parade.
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Above: Daisy Bates in a parade.

As head of the Arkansas NAACP, and protector of the nine students, Daisy Bates would achieve instant fame as the drama played out on national television and in newspapers around the world. But that fame would prove fleeting and for her attempts to remain relevant, she would pay a hefty price.

Daisy Bates was not born to make history. The product of a segregated Arkansas sawmill town, she was black, illegitimate and self-taught after the eighth grade. Bates's early life was scarred when she discovered that the couple that was raising her was not, in fact, her parents. Her biological mother had been raped, murdered, and dumped into a local pond by white men. Fearing for his life, her father gave her away and never reclaimed her.

Throughout her life — even at the height of her acclaim — Daisy Bates would know loneliness and a feeling of being on the outside looking in. It was a feeling that drove her relentlessly — to take up with a married man as a means of escaping the circumstances of her birth, to constantly push herself and those around her, to ignore her fears and doubts, to never let friends or enemies see her in pain, and to always present an air of composure, sophistication, and glamour even when her life was falling apart.

Today, Daisy Bates's contributions — first as a newspaper publisher in Little Rock and then as head of the Arkansas NAACP — remain little recognized outside of Arkansas.

In the 1980s, when Henry Hampton was filming his landmark series, "Eyes On The Prize," Daisy Bates had been silenced and nearly crippled by a series of strokes. She was never able to tell her own story on film.

"Daisy Bates: First Lady Of Little Rock" tells the story of her life and public support of nine black students who registered to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which culminated in a constitutional crisis — pitting a president against a governor and a community against itself. Unconventional, revolutionary and egotistical, Bates reaped the rewards of instant fame, but paid dearly for it.

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Trailer: Independent Lens: Daisy Bates: First Lady Of Little Rock

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Video Excerpt: Daisy Bates: First Lady Of Little Rock

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