Kids, if you think it’s not easy to go to your school, where maybe a few other students don’t care for you, imagine this. Imagine being one of only nine students to integrate a formerly all-White high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1950’s, back when Black customers couldn’t even sit at lunch counters with Whites, or use the same water fountains and rest rooms.
And think what it would have been like if the White kids in the school not only did not want you there, and did all they could to make your life miserable, but had members of the White Supremacy hate group The Ku Klux Klan “coaching” them on how best to drive you crazy!
Incredibly, this is exactly what happened in Little Rock in 1957. The Klan was helping the White children to debase the Black ones. It was all part of a plan to get the Black students to drop out of the White school.
Well, it didn’t work. President Eisenhower sent in the armed forces to ensure the school was integrated. Paratroopers escorted the Black children to and from the school until the situation calmed down a bit – though it never fully abated during the entire year when the Black ones were targeted for abuse. Only one student finally got mad enough at the abuse to leave Central High School. I don’t blame her. If that had been me, I’d have blown my top faster and worse. She was amazing for sticking it out as long as she did. More power to her!
The Little Rock Nine were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls. Melba Patillo Beals wrote an exceptionally good book on the situation called Warriors Don’t Cry. It ought to be required reading in every school in America. I highly recommend it.
The NAACP stepped in to coach the Black students on how not to respond to the taunts of the Whites. If someone threw something at one of the Nine, they simply picked it up, gave it back, and told their tormentor, “You dropped this.” I do not know how these brave students managed to remain so calm in the face of so much abuse, but even though it was unbearable, they did.
Many years later, in 1997, the Little Rock Nine were invited back to the school for a ceremony. They were in for a really pleasant surprise when they arrived: the doors to their old school were swung open to them – by none other than then-President Bill Clinton.
A monument to the Little Rock Nine now stands on the grounds of Central High School. It’s a very cool set of statues, one for each of the famous nine, to commemorate their bravery. They also got the Congressional Gold Medal.
As for their battalion of tormentors, well, unless you count the fact that they earned the contempt of people of goodwill everywhere, they got nothing! I can’t help but smile whenever I think of the poetic justice of that.
So whenever you know you’re on the right track, remember the grace of the Little Rock Nine. Stand tall, stand proud, and stand your ground!