If you grew up in Pulaski County during the 1950s or ’60s – or certainly if you ever attended or taught at Little Rock Central High – you can probably rattle off the significance of the woman behind the street name by rote:
“Daisy L. Gatson Bates was a civil rights activist and mentor to the Little Rock 9.”
And that is true.
(For those of you who don’t know, the Little Rock 9 were the brave African-American teens who exercised their rights established by Brown v. the Board of Education to integrate Central High School in 1957. It did not go swimmingly, and the incident brought world-wide disgrace to Little Rock.)
But some of you may wonder just who was the woman whose name is part of The Bernice Garden’s address? (The Garden sits at the intersection of Bates Drive and Main Street.)
The online Encyclopedia of Arkansas tells us that not much is recorded or known about the early life of Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, but she and her soon-to-be husband, L.C. Bates, moved to Little Rock in 1941 to found a civil-rights newspaper, Arkansas State Press, and were married in 1942. They also became active members of the Little Rock branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during the time the NAACP shifted its emphasis to integration.
Her activism in the NAACP, and her willingness not to back down when challenged by racists/segregationists, led to her becoming a well-known figure during the Central High Crisis, to the point that her home was attacked more than once.
The Encyclopedia also tells us that despite being chosen by the Associated Press as the 1957 Woman of the Year in Education and being chosen to fill a vacancy on the board of the national NAACP (a position she held until 1970), Bates and her husband were forced to close their newspaper in 1959 because of intimidation and a boycott by white advertisers.
Bates left the state in 1960, moving to New York to write a memoir, but she did return to Arkansas and is buried in Little Rock in the Haven of Rest Cemetery on 12th Street, in case you want to pay your respects.
She earned them – which is why she has a street and a state holiday named in her honor.