Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I just finished reading a book by one of the "Little Rock Nine", the 9 black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 and attracted the attention of the world. The book was fascinating to me, and not only because I happen to be a graduate of Central High. "Warriors Don't Cry" (Melba Patillo Beals) may not be a literary masterpiece, but it gives you a feeling for what those kids had to endure back then that could only come from someone who went through it. It's unimaginable! Almost every single day Melba and the others were punched, kicked and verbally harassed ("You won't live through this day, nigger!"). Melba herself had some corrosive substance thrown in her eyes and could have lost her eyesight. The best they could hope for was being ignored by the 2,000 other white students. Can you imagine spending your junior or senior year in high school like that? For most kids it's a catastrophe when they don't make the glee club or the basketball team. But 8 of the 9 made it through the whole of 1957 -- one was expelled for dumping chili on some boys who were harassing her, and she probably didn't even do the dumping.
It's amazing to think that, only fourteen years after this, I entered Central as a white kid who was bussed in to keep the racial balance intact. The black/white ratio was about 50-50, and there was very little racial tension that I was aware of.
Last summer I took my two teenage girls to Central High while we were in Little Rock. I was proud to show them the impressive building and my name on a couple of basketball trophies. We went to the National Historic Site Visitor Center and browsed through the exhibits on the integration of 1957. But until I read Ms. Beals' book I didn't really understand what a sacrifice those first black kids made back in 1957 -- so that I could enjoy going to the Central High School I knew.
For more info on the "Little Rock Nine" go to: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/civilrights/ak1.htm