Clinton celebrates Little Rock Nine

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former President Bill Clinton told surviving members of the Little Rock Nine on Monday that they could wear dancing shoes to celebrate their integration of Central High School but must be ready to don marching boots as struggles for equality continue.

Inside the school’s auditorium — 60 years after nine black students had to be escorted by troops past an angry white mob to enter the previously all-white high school — Clinton said the world had returned to a “tribalism” that must be overcome.

“The answer to everything went to ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ That’s why democracy requires diversity and debate,” Clinton, who is also a former Arkansas governor, said in a half-hour address.

Eight of the people who integrated Central High under a military escort Sept. 25, 1957, are still alive. Jefferson Thomas died in 2010, and on Monday an empty seat stood amid the group, beneath a sash of black and old gold — the school’s colors.

“I feel like I’m visiting a religious shrine,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. of the Hutchins Center at Harvard, told the crowd of 2,000.

Then-Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, saying he feared violence, ringed the school with National Guard troops to keep the black children out. President Dwight Eisenhower sent units from the 327th Infantry, 101st Air­borne Division, to enforce a 1954 Supreme Court order that schools integrate “with all deliberate speed.”