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Sunday, February 5 at 10 p.m. Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock, an Independent Lens presentation

(Rochester, NY)Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock, airing Sunday, February 5 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11), is the story of a seven-year journey by filmmaker Sharon La Cruise to discover the life of a forgotten civil rights activist named Daisy Bates. Beautiful, glamorous, and articulate, Bates was fearless in her quest for justice, stepping into the spotlight to bring national attention to civil rights issues, and, some say, to herself.

Unconventional and egotistical, she became a household name in 1957 when she fought for the right of nine black students to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her public support culminated in a constitutional crisis — pitting a president against a governor and a community against itself. As head of the Arkansas NAACP and protector of the nine students, Bates would achieve instant fame as the drama played out on national television and in newspapers around the world. But that fame would prove fleeting, and Bates would pay a hefty price for her attempts to remain relevant. The film travels with Daisy Bates on her long and lonely walk from orphaned child to newspaperwoman to national Civil Rights figure to her last days in Little Rock. Bates’s journey, full of triumphs and defeats, parallels the ongoing struggle of generations of African Americans who have challenged America to live up to what it has claimed to be for more than 200 years.

Her early life was scarred when she discovered that the couple raising her were not, in fact, her parents. Her biological mother had been raped, murdered, and dumped into a local pond by white men. Fearing for his safety, her father gave Daisy away and never reclaimed her. Throughout her life — even at the height of her acclaim — Daisy Bates would know loneliness and a feeling of being on the outside looking in. It was a feeling that drove her relentlessly: to take up with a married man as a means of escaping the circumstances of her birth; to constantly push herself and those around her; to ignore her fears and doubts; to never let friends or enemies see her in pain; and to always present an air of composure, sophistication, and glamour, even when her life was falling apart.

Daisy Bates was not born to make history, but make history she did. The product of a segregated Arkansas sawmill town, she was illegitimate and self-taught after the eighth grade.

Today, Daisy Bates’s contributions, first as a newspaper publisher in Little Rock and then as head of the Arkansas NAACP, remain unrecognized outside of Arkansas. The film connects Bates to many of the well-known female civil rights activists who followed in her footsteps: Gloria Richardson Dandridge, Diane Nash, and Angela Davis. Bates paved the way for all these women to take a stand in their communities when the time came to do so. In telling the story of Daisy Bates, the film fills in a gap in the story of hundreds of women in the civil rights movement, both past and present, whose contributions continue to be overlooked.

To learn more about the film, visit the Daisy Bates interactive companion website (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/daisy-bates/), which features detailed information on the film, including an interview with the filmmaker and links and resources pertaining to the film’s subject matter. The site also features a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions, preview clips of the film, and more.

Pictured:
Credit: Courtesy of The Commercial Appeal

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