In 1957 Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was next to Rev. Martin Luther King, the most recognized civil rights leader in the nation. In October of that year he addressed the Commonwealth Club of California five weeks after mobs in Little Rock, Arkansas, attempted to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School. The defiant governor, Orval Faubus, called on Arkansas National Guard troops to keep the students out, but President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to protect them. The school had been desegregated by a court order resulting from a 1954 landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education. Wilkins spoke on the crisis facing not only black Americans, but the future of the United States during the Cold War.
It is no exaggeration, I think, to state that the situation presented by the resistance to the 1954 decision of the United States Supreme Court in the public school segregation cases is fully as grave as any which have come under the scrutiny and study of the Commonwealth Club....
Little Rock brought the desegregation crisis sharply to the attention of the American people and the world. Here at home, it awakened many citizens for the first time to the ugly realities of a challenge to the very unity of our nation. Abroad, dealt a stab in the back to American prestige as the leader f the free world and presented our totalitarian enemies with made-to-order propaganda for use among the very nations and peoples we need and must have on the side of democracy . . .
The world cannot understand nor long respect a nation in which a governor calls out troops to bar little children from school in defiance of the Supreme Court of the land, a nation in which mobs beat and kick and stone and spit upon those who happen not to be white. It asks: "Is this the vaunted democracy? Is this freedom, human dignity and equality of opportunity? Is this fair play? Is this better than Communism?" No, the assertion that Little Rock