When nine black teenagers integrated Central High School in Little Rock, many segregationists insisted they were paid protesters who had been imported from other states. pic.twitter.com/l6yDPNzChS— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) February 21, 2018
Sixty-one years before teens at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., would survive a mass shooting only to be labeled “crisis actors,” the nine African American teens who braved racist crowds to enroll in Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas were also accused of being impostors.Kevin Kruse, a Princeton history professor, first pointed out the parallel between Florida and efforts to detract from the courage of the Little Rock Nine. His Tweet went viral.
False rumors that the Little Rock Nine were paid protesters even forced the NAACP to issue a statement condemning the stories as “pure propaganda.” The students were not, in fact, “imported” from the North, said the NAACP’s Clarence A. Laws, but rather the children of local residents, including veterans.
“It’s a theme that crops up throughout civil rights history,” said Kruse. “Back then, it was an assumption that African Americans in the South couldn’t possibly be upset. They must have been stirred up from the outside, either paid to do this or inspired to do this by propaganda. They couldn’t have come up with this on their own.
“It’s the same idea,” [historian Heather] Richardson said. “That anybody who doesn’t agree with establishment politics must have no agency, be corrupt or not understand what they are doing.”