Why Community Organizers Matter

In 1957, nine young black students showed up for their first day at Little Rock Central High School. They faced an angry white mob and the Arkansas National Guard, which had been deployed by the governor to resist federal desegregation orders. The event quickly became a fulcrum for the civil rights movement, largely through the efforts of one oft-overlooked organizer: Daisy Lee Gatson Bates. As co-founder of the black Arkansas State Press and president of the Arkansas branch of the NAACP, Bates was uniquely qualified to prepare the Little Rock Nine for their first day of school, and to get the news cameras rolling. In an attempt to bring Bates’ legacy into our public conscience, Sharon La Cruise’s documentary Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock recounts the harrowing events of the Little Rock crisis, as well as Bates’ later work on President Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty programs. In the process, Cruise also uncovers a personality as complex as the era — a charismatic, self-taught firebrand whose need for drink led to three early strokes and whose need for attention often led to alienation, even from those she would help. Ultimately, we are left with an authentic heroine who has not been whitewashed.
Tue., Jan. 17, 5:45 p.m., 2012

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