Thomason v. Cooper

We have been reviewing the federal statutes that President Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked when he sent federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas in the fall of 1957. I now want to switch gears, so to speak, to discuss three obscure cases arising directly out of the desegregation of Central High School in the fall of 1957: (1) Thomason v. Cooper, 254 F.2d 808 (8th Cir. 1958), (2) Jackson v. Kuhn, 254 F.2d 555 (8th Cir. 1958), and (3) Duncan v. Kirby, 311 S.W.2d 157, Supreme Court of Arkansas (1958). The last two cases challenged President Eisenhower’s legal authority to send federal troops into Little Rock, but let’s begin with Thomason v. Cooper, for it is this case that in many ways precipitated the crisis in Little Rock that fall.

Although Thomason v. Cooper ended up being litigated in federal court, this case originally arose out of a state-court action brought in the Chancery Court of Pulaski County in August of 1957. It was originally brought by Mrs. Mary Thomason, the president of the newly-formed “Mothers’ League of Central High School,” a pro-segregation group. A week before the start of the 1957-58 school year, Mrs. Thomason brought this action on behalf of the Mother’s League to enjoin Little Rock’s school board from carrying out its integration plan at Central High School. Chancellor Murray Reed, who presided over this case at the state court level, granted the injunction on 29 August 1957. Although this case is not as well-known as Cooper v. Aaron, in which the Supreme Court ratified its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it should be, for it set the legal stage for the historic showdown between supporters of segregation and the federal courts in Little Rock, a showdown that would culminate with President Eisenhower federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and sending the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to enforce desegregation at Central High School …

Unlike Mrs. Thomason’s case, the other two cases mentioned above arose after President Eisenhower sent U.S. troops into Little Rock; we will consider those cases in our next two posts.

Image result for central high school little rock

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