Daisy Gatson Bates Day
This holiday celebrates the life of Daisy Gatson Bates, a civil rights activist and writer known for work with the segregated school system in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a result, Arkansas made a holiday in her honor to coincide with Washington’s Birthday, which is celebrated the third Monday of every February. Most schools and offices in Arkansas close for the holiday.
About Daisy Gatson Bates
Bates was born in either 1913 or 1914 in Huttig, Arkansas, and grew up as a foster child in the public segregated school system. She believed that her foster parents were her biological parents until finding out that her mother was murdered after a sexual assault by three white men, after which her father left. After marrying and settling in Little Rock, Bates and her husband started the newspaper, Arkansas State Press, a publication dedicated to civil rights. She also served as president of the NAACP branch in the Arkansas Conference.
Bates is best known for her work writing about and mentoring the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine black students who enrolled at the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Around this time, Bates and other NAACP leaders were charged with withholding NAACP member information to the public, which was repealed by the Supreme Court. Her involvement in the Little Rock Crisis caused advertising revenue for her newspaper to dry up, closing it in 1959. Bates and her husband then moved to New York City, where she wrote her National Book Award-winning memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
Her next move was to Washington D.C., where she worked for the Democratic National Committee and then with President Johnson on anti-poverty initiatives, returning to Little Rock in 1965 after experiencing a stroke.
After recovery, she moved to Mitchellville, Arkansas, where she worked on community improvement programs. When her husband passed away in 1980, she decided to re-open her publishing company, which she sold in 1987 and stayed on as a consultant. She passed away on November 4, 1999 in Little Rock.
Her legacy includes an American Book Award, the Daisy Bates Elementary School, 1957 Woman of the Year, and a street in her name by Little Rock Central High School.
Daisy Gatson Bates Day is commemorated in Arkansas through lectures and educational presentations, events honoring her life and work, and readings of her writing.