Skip to main content, skip to search, or skip to the top of the page.

MSU College of Law

The FBI and Implementing Brown V. Board of Education

A retired undercover FBI agent told the story of his role in the 1957 integration of Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School to a rapt audience of 110 members of the MSU community this week. The MSU Law Office of Graduate and International Programs and Professor Kristi Bowman organized the event as part of Project 60/50, a year-long community conversation about significant civil rights events.

Retired agent John J. Feeheley was ordered to Little Rock on a secret mission to infiltrate the massive mob of protesters keeping nine African-American students from attending the previously all-white school. He was one of three undercover FBI agents working to learn who was behind the mob and if the protests were the organized work of specific individuals.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education that state laws establishing segregated public schools were unconstitutional, essentially overturning the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896. Authorities were surprised by the level of protests, Feeheley explained, since other schools in the area had been integrated without incident.

Retired FBI Agent Jack FeeheleyLeaving his children and wife, who had just delivered a baby a couple months before, in Detroit, he arrived to very dangerous circumstances with news reporters beaten and their notebooks and cameras destroyed.

Feeheley and his fellow agents sought links between the mob of protesters and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, local law enforcement, and the Arkansas National Guard.

Once, when the Little Rock Nine were snuck in through a side door, members of the mob stormed into the school in an attempt to remove the African-American students, he recalled.

Feeheley and the agents also investigated fraudulent news reports, which alleged that the governor’s chief of staff was the organizer of this mob.

Ultimately, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann requested federal assistance, and the Guard troops were ordered to disband by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army escorted the students into the school and controlled the protestors. It was the first time federal troops had been ordered to ensure the rights of the African-Americans, Feeheley said.

MSU’s Project 60-50 has created a yearlong public forum for authors, artists, filmmakers, spiritual leaders, historians, and community activists. Learn more about upcoming and past events, and about how to get involved in the conversation about the changing face of inclusivity.

Updated October 31, 2014

Skip to main content, skip to search, or skip to the top of the page.