University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Documentary about Judge Davies and desegregation ruling debuts Sept. 23

With the White House, a state governor, the National Guard, and later the 101st Airborne involved, it's likely that federal Judge  road-to-littlerock_sidebar1 Ronald Davies knew he was making a landmark decision.

The Road to Little Rock, a documentary about Davies, his famous desegregation ruling, and the brave young African-Americans who squared off against the forces of racism, premieres in Grand Forks next Monday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m., at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on the University of North Dakota campus. The premiere comes during the 50th anniversary year of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s world-famous "I Have a Dream" speech and close to the anniversary date of Judge Davies's momentous decision. The movie and related activities ― including a North Dakota-wide public school curriculum about the civil rights movement ― is part of a two-year research project led by the Fargo Public Schools. The movie premiered in Fargo in January.

Davies, a Crookston native who graduated from UND in 1927, was at the time of his desegregation case a federal district judge who'd been reassigned from Fargo to Little Rock, Ark. That was in 1957 during the height of America's contentious desegregation effort.

Davies is famous for judicially facing down Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who opposed a federal school desegration order.

Faubus called out his state's National Guard to enforce his opposition and prevent nine legally enrolled African-American students from entering Little Rock's Central High School. This focused international attention on America's desegregation fight.

Davies ruled that Arkansas courts had no jurisdiction over the school case and ordered that the federally mandated desegregation proceed. After Faubus summoned the Guard to prevent the nine African-American students from getting into the school Sept. 4, 1957, Davies repeated his order that integration be implemented "forthwith." Davies also called on the federal Department of Justice to investigate the state's attempt to impede the federal desegregation order.

President Dwight Eisenhower, former supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the end stages of World War II, called out the 101st Airborne ― an active-duty Army unit famed for its combat prowess ― to enforce the Supreme Court's desegregation order in Little Rock.

As noted in the documentary film, Davies had made a brave, bold move that changed the course of history.

The Road to Little Rock, the documentary film directed by Art Phillips of Video Arts Studios, Fargo, is about the Davies decision and also focuses on the nine African-American students who stood up to the forces of racism in Little Rock.

A discussion following the premiere will feature Dr. Terence Roberts, one of those nine students. Roberts, who visited UND previously, also spoke at the premiere of the film earlier this month in Bismarck, hosted by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The Society also hosted the 2013 Governor's History Conference on Civil Rights and Social Justice, which also featured Roberts as a guest speaker.

According to the film's website, The Road to Little Rock tells the story of Davies and the nine African-American teenagers who demonstrated courage, honor, determination and responsibility in 1957 at the high school in Little Rock. That year, many school districts continued to ignore the 1954 Supreme Court ruling of Brown v Board of Education which declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The story features a number of never-seen-before interviews with three members of the Little Rock Nine and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. It blends interviews with archival footage and primary source documentation to tell the story of the events which led to the integration of Central High School.

Davies graduated from Grand Forks Central High School, which this year inducted him into its first class of Distinguished Alumni. The federal building and courthouse in Grand Forks and a high school in Fargo are named after Davies, and his portrait hangs in the North Dakota Capitol in the state's gallery of distinguished North Dakotans.

Several members of Judge Davies's family are expected to be at the film's premiere Monday, and UND is hosting a reception after the film.