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By William H. Benson

The Parallel Lives


Roger Williams VS. Cotton Mathers


Desegregation at Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957

Desegregation at Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957

Last time in these pages I discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, out of Topeka, Kansas. It attempted to rollback the premise that, if schools were “equal” in quality, then they may remain “separated” between blacks and whites.

Chief Justice Earl Warren disagreed. On May 31, 1955, Earl Warren insisted that Southern states must initiate desegregation plans in their schools “with all deliberate speed.”

“Massive resistance” across the Southern states erupted. School boards closed their schools, abolished compulsory attendance laws, and redirected public funds to schools now made private.

The primary test for desegregation occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, at Central High School, when its doors opened on September 4, the first day of school.

Daisy Gaston Bates—president of Arkansas’s NAACP and co-publisher of the Arkansas State Press—recruited 9 African-American students, 3 boys and 6 girls, who agreed to try to walk in and attend the all-white school that day.

Their names were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Gloria Ray, Melba Pattilo, Carlotta Watts, Ernest Green, Terrance Roberts, and Jefferson Thomas.

On Tuesday, September 3, a federal judge named Ronald Davies ruled that desegregation would continue as planned the next day.

That evening Daisy Gaston Bates called eight of the nine, except for Elizabeth Eckford, and offered to drive them to the school together. Elizabeth did not get the message as to where to meet because her family had no telephone.

On Wednesday morning, September 4, a mob of over 1000 angry white adults and students gathered at the school’s front door and chanted, “Two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate!”

Arkansas’s Governor, Orval Faubus, ordered the state’s National Guard to the school “to prevent violence.” The soldiers stood ramrod straight, each holding a firearm with a bayonet.

The crowd went wild once they heard the news, “They’re inside,” because the eight had slipped into the school through a side door.

It was then that fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford stepped toward the front door alone.

Students, adult men, and women, all white, gathered around her, jeered at her, ridiculed her, called her names, and hurled a stream of “racial slurs, vicious insults, and threats” of violence. A photographer’s pictures of the girl’s brave attempt made world wide news.

She later described the day, “When I was able to steady my knees, I walked up to the guard who had let the white students in. He didn’t move. When I tried to squeeze past him, he raised his bayonet, and then the other guards moved in, and they raised their bayonets.

“They glared at me with a mean look, and I was frightened and didn’t know what to do. The crowd came toward me.”

None of the nine attended school that day. Each were rounded up and driven off.

A team of NAACP lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, objected in court to Governor Faber’s resistance, and the courts favored the students, but each of the nine refused to return.

On Monday, September 23, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dispatched 100 paratroopers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, to enforce desegregation, and on September 25, the nine attended classes for the first time, but not without continual name-calling and violence.

Governor Fabus declared, “This is military occupation,” dredging up bitter memories of the Reconstruction years, 1865-1877, when the North’s Union army oversaw local and state politics. Many across the Southern states cried out, “This is a violation of our State’s Rights!”

Of the nine, one graduated from Little Rock’s high school, Ernest Green, on May 25, 1958, the first African American to graduate from Central High.

Those nine broke the racial barrier. America’s destiny now incorporated desegregation.

Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

In Topeka, Kansas, on February 20, 1943, a black girl named Linda Brown was born. When still a child in the early 1950’s, her father, Oliver Brown, was required to drive Linda to an all-black school five miles across Topeka, when an all-white school, the Sumner...

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Memoirs and mothers

In 1995, the author David Pelzer’s book, “A Child Called It,” was first published. In it, he claimed that his mother beat him, starved him, terrorized him, and banished him to the garage, where he slept on a cot. Gruesome beyond words, the book sold 1.6 million copies in five years.

I read it then and thought throughout, “No mother would do that.”

In 1996, Frank McCourt’s book, “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir,” was first published. In it, he listed his impressions as a child growing up in poverty-stricken

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Thoughts on College Bowl and University Challenge

The quiz show, “College Bowl,” was first broadcast on radio in 1953, 71 years ago. The show transitioned to television in 1959 and stayed there until 1970. Its first host was Allen Ludden, the future husband of Betty White. He hosted the show until 1962 when he left...

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4th Amendment: Sections 4 and 5

Two weeks ago in these pages, I looked at the second and third sections of the 14th Amendment. Today I continue with its two final sections, the fourth and the fifth. Section 4 clarifies which debts the U.S. Federal government will honor as valid. The first sentence...

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4th Amendment: Sections 2 and 3

Last time in these pages I looked at Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. Today I continue. The last phrase in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment declares that no state can “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” All races are equal...

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14th Amendment, Section 1

In early 1866, the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction in the 39th Congress wrestled with the idea that they must write a 14th Amendment to address certain issues: Who is a citizen? How does the country’s laws apply to former slaves and slave owners? Will...

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Older Posts

Black History Month: Reconstruction, 1865-1866

Black History Month: Reconstruction, 1865-1866

In December of 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suggested a plan to reinstate the seceded states back into the Union, his “Ten Percent Plan.”

He would permit each Confederate state to form a new state government after ten percent of the voters in a state took loyalty oaths to the Union and recognized the former slaves’ freedom.

Following Lincoln’s assassination on April 9, 1865, his successor, former Vice-President Andrew Johnson, decided to run with Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan.

Throughout the summer and fall of 1866, the Southern states

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Black History Month: Phillis Wheatley and Billy Lee

Two African-American slaves from the eighteenth century: Phillis Wheatley and William “Billy” Lee. The first a woman, the second a man. The first a poet, the second a valet. The two received their freedom from their respective owners, and they each knew George...

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National Freedom Day and Black History Month

National Freedom Day and Black History Month

On Feb. 7, 1926, Carter G. Woodson, a professor of history, announced that he would celebrate and highlight for the first time ever a single week devoted to African-American history, and he called it “Negro History Week.”

He selected the second week in February because of its proximity to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, Lincoln on Feb. 12, and Douglass on a day in February.

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Frederick Douglass’ “Slaveholder’s Sermon”

Frederick Douglass’ “Slaveholder’s Sermon”

On May 11, 2017, the newly-elected U.S. President, Donald Trump, issued an executive order to form a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. He appointed Vice-President Mike Pence as chair, and Kansas State’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair.

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Assertion is not evidence

Assertion is not evidence

On May 11, 2017, the newly-elected U.S. President, Donald Trump, issued an executive order to form a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. He appointed Vice-President Mike Pence as chair, and Kansas State’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair.

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Unique words in history

Unique words in history

December 16 marked the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, when colonial Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships—Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver—split open 340 chests filled with tea, and dumped their contents into Boston’s harbor.

This defiant act was directed as a protest against Parliament’s insistence that the consignees of the tea in the American colonies pay an import tax, to keep afloat the struggling British East India Company, which brought the tea to the colonists.

The colonists were angry. They paid taxes to their

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William Benson

One of University of Northern Colorado’s 2020 Honored Alumni

William H. Benson

Local has provided scholarships for history students for 15 years

A Sterling resident is among five alumni selected to be recognized this year by the University of Northern Colorado. Bill Benson is one of college’s 2020 Honored Alumni.

Each year UNC honors alumni in recognition for their outstanding contributions to the college, their profession and their community. This year’s honorees were to be recognized at an awards ceremony on March 27, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak that event has been cancelled. Instead UNC will recognize the honorees in the fall during homecoming Oct. 10 and 11……

Newspaper Columns

The Duodecimal System

For centuries, the ancient Romans calculated sums with their clunky numerals: I, V, X, L, C, D, and M; or one, five, ten, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. They knew nothing better.

The Thirteenth Amendment

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and by it, he declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and henceforward shall be free.” Lincoln’s Proclamation freed some 3.1 million slaves within the Confederacy.

The Fourteenth Amendment

After Congress and enough states ratified the thirteenth amendment that terminated slavery, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This law declared that “all people born in the United States are entitled to be citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” The Act equated birth to citizenship.

The New-York Packet and the Constitution

Jill Lepore, the Harvard historian, published her newest book a month ago, These Truths: A History of the United States. In a short introduction, she describes in detail the Oct. 30, 1787 edition of a semi-weekly newspaper, The New-York Packet.


Mr. Benson’s writings on the U.S. Constitution are a great addition to the South Platte Sentinel. Its inspiring to see the history of the highest laws of this country passed on to others.

– Richard Hogan


Mr. Benson, I cannot thank you enough for this scholarship. As a first-generation college student, the prospect of finding a way to afford college is a very daunting one. Thanks to your generous donation, my dream of attending UNC and continuing my success here is far more achievable

Cedric Sage Nixon


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– Extra Times


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