Daisy Gatson Bates’ life did not begin or end with the 1957 Integration Crisis. While that remarkable time in history would surely memorialize her name and impact the rest of her life; there were other episodes that would impact her life even more. The Huttig, Arkansas native was dealt a most complicated hand to play when she arrived here on November 11, 1914 – born in the company town of Huttig, Arkansas where segregation was legal and accepted, and blacks were relegated to second-class citizenship. Born to teenaged and unwed parents, Daisy would become an orphan within a year’s time when her mother was murdered and her father left her at a friend’s doorstep.
The miracle of Daisy Bates is her evolution from a beautiful, young woman filled with hate and bitterness, to the impassioned leader she would become. Her first and only love, the much older L.C. Bates, would become her husband and soul mate. Together they would make history – Arkansas history and National History. Daisy would become the voice and the face of the 1957 Central High Integration Crisis.
Author Janis F. Kearney recounts the leader’s many friendships, relationships and associations that helps define who she was in the eyes of the world during that pivotal time in history - from Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; Roy Wilson, NAACP President; Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton, NAACP attorneys, Maya Angelou and Jackie Robinson… and others.
Daisy Bates, a woman leader before her time.
Daisy’s indoctrination into the race struggle started early. Her adopted parents Ora Lee and Susie Smith were the only parents she knew. Her father, she has said, was a secret race man – a clandestine member of the NAACP at a time when it was dangerous to belong to such an organization in the South.
He shared with his young foster daughter the hopes and dreams the organization allowed him. And when she asked why he would take such a risk, he told her theirs, and other black families’ futures, depended on the organization’s success. On his frequent, surreptitious travels to meetings, he brought back NAACP literature to share with his wife, Susie, and their young daughter.
To her own surprise, Daisy would inherit elements of both her foster father, and mother, and she was the better for it. Possibly, it was her father’s courage that Daisy claimed. The pretty and dainty child would one day embrace, and invigorate the very NAACP that her father had introduced her to years earlier. She was both a fierce leader and a loyal follower within the organization’s local and national ranks. She would also exhibit the very attributes she fought against in her foster mother, Susie Smith. Daisy’s work ethic, her no-nonsense way of getting things done; her strict sense of right and wrong, and her tunnel vision when she believed in a cause – was much like the unbending, but caring Susie Smith.
As a young woman, Daisy enjoyed the benefits that her beauty and charm awarded her, including the courtship, and final marriage to the tall, handsome L.C. Bates. As she matured, and perhaps in response to the wise tutelage of her more worldly husband, Daisy began to mine her innate strengths, her intellect and forcefulness.
Some believe her evolution from sultry beauty to beautiful leader took place virtually overnight. Some believe it came about too quickly, that it overshadowed L.C., her soul mate, and loyal partner. Those who knew them best are certain that Daisy and L.C.’s mission was one and the same.
Daisy Lee Bates stretched the realms of her times – eschewing that box that would have her act, think, or react in specific ways. She disavowed others’ preconceived notions of who she was or what she should be, based on her race, her gender or the environment where she happened to find herself.
None who knew this fully emerged butterfly would be surprised to learn that Daisy was the first, and only woman president of a state NAACP at the age of 35, or that the daring young woman would be the only woman in a college-sponsored piloting class, up to the point of gaining eligibility for a pilot’s certificate. She was the fifth recipient in history to receive the Margaret Chase Smith Award; the first woman to address the Massachusetts State Senate, and the only woman to address the historical March on Washington, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
How To Purchase:
Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place can be purchased through our bookstore.
About the Author:
Few would believe Janis F. Kearney’s childhood as a cotton sharecropper’s daughter would prepare her for such an amazing life journey – her treasured role as protégée of renowned civil rights leader Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, and her years as personal diarist to President William J. Clinton. In fact, the grounding her parents supplied her with; the love of her 18 siblings, and the encouragement to dream, all contributed to her lifelong belief that `What we see as impossible is no more than God taunting us to take up the challenge and create something out of nothing.’