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LIFE looks back at the Little Rock Nine

Published 6:26 PM ET, Fri May 16, 2014
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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. Francis MillerTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Arkansas National Guardsmen prevent African-American students from entering Little Rock Central High School. Francis MillerTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Members of the Little Rock Nine arrive at school, only to be turned away by Arkansas National Guardsmen. Francis MillerTime & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Segregationists picket in Little Rock. Ed Clark/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Within days, President Dwight Eisenhower underscored the government's commitment to the Supreme Court's decision by sending in troops from the Army's 101st Airborne to Little Rock to ensure the teens' safety. Here, soldiers square off against anti-integration protesters. Eight of the nine completed that school year. See more of LIFE's coverage of the Little Rock Nine. George Sil/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images