LIFE looks back at the Little Rock Nine

Arguably the most critical school desegregation battle in American history took place in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, when nine African-American students -- known ever after as the Little Rock Nine -- integrated Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School. On September 4, 1957 -- the first day of school -- a crush of reporters and photographers chronicled the scene as Arkansas National Guardsmen blocked 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, the first of the nine to arrive, from entering school grounds. <a href='http://life.time.com/history/little-rock-nine-1957-photos/#1' target='_blank'>See more of LIFE's coverage of the Little Rock Nine</a>.

Arguably the most critical school desegregation battle in American history took place in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, when nine African-American students -- known ever after as the Little Rock Nine -- integrated Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School. On September 4, 1957 -- the first day of school -- a crush of reporters and photographers chronicled the scene as Arkansas National Guardsmen blocked 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, the first of the nine to arrive, from entering school grounds. See more of LIFE's coverage of the Little Rock Nine.