Daisy Lee Gaston Bates, a civil rights advocate, newspaper publisher, and president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), advised the nine students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. King offered encouragement to Bates during this period, telling her in a letter that she was “a woman whom everyone KNOWS has been, and still is in the thick of the battle from the very beginning, never faltering, never tiring” (Papers 4:446).
Bates was born in 1914 in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas. Following the murder of her biological mother and the disappearance of her father, she was raised by family friends, Orlee and Susan Smith. At an early age she developed a disdain for discrimination, recalling in her autobiography The Long Shadow of Little Rock an incident when a local butcher told her, “Niggers have to wait ‘til I wait on the white people” (Bates, 8).
At the age of fifteen she met L.C. Bates, a journalist and insurance salesmen whom she married in 1941. The pair soon founded the Arkansas State Press, an avidly pro-civil rights newspaper. Bates became an outspoken critic of segregation, using the paper to call for an improvement in the social and economic conditions of blacks throughout Arkansas. When the Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 outlawing segregation in public schools, the State Press began clamoring for integration in Little Rock schools. As the state president of the NAACP, a position she had assumed in 1952, Bates worked closely with the black students who volunteered to desegregate Central High School in the fall of 1957. The story of the “Little Rock Nine” quickly became national news when white residents rioted and threatened the physical safety of Bates and the students.
During this time King reached out to the Arkansas civil rights leader. In a 26 September 1957 telegram sent during the Central High School crisis, King urged Bates to “adhere rigorously to a way of non-violence,” despite being “terrorized, stoned, and threatened by ruthless mobs.” He assured her: “World opinion is with you. The moral conscience of millions of white Americans is with you.” In May 1958 King stayed with the Bates when he spoke at the Arkansas AM&N College commencement, and soon afterward invited her to be the Women’s Day speaker at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church later that year in October. During the same year, Bates was elected to the executive committee of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
The only woman to speak at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Bates later moved to Mitchellville, Arkansas, and became director of the Mitchellville Office of Equal Opportunity Self-Help Project. In 1999, following a series of strokes, she died at the age of 84.
Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, 1962.
"Dr. King Ask Non-Violence In Little Rock School Crisis," 26 September 1957, in Papers 4:279.
King to Bates, 1 July 1958, in Papers 4:445-446.