In the book Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals, the author describes what her reactions and feelings are to the racial hatred and discrimination she and eight other African-American teenagers received in Little Rock, Arkansas during the desegregation period in 1957. She tells the story of the nine students from the time she turned sixteen years old and began keeping a diary until her final days at Central high school in Little Rock. The story begins by Melba talking about the anger, hatred, and sadness that is brought up upon her first return to Central High for a reunion with her eight other classmates. As she walks through the halls and rooms of the old school, she recalls the horrible acts of violence that were committed by the white students against her and her friends. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education that schools needed to integrate and provide equal education for all people and it was unconstitutional for the state to deny certain citizens this opportunity. Although this decision was a landmark case and meant the schools could no longer deny admission to a child based solely on the color of their skin.
By 1957, most schools had began to slowly integrate their students, but those in the deep south were still trying to fight the decision. One of the most widely known instances of this happening was at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It took the school district three years to work out an integration plan. The board members and faculty didn’t like the fact that they were going to have to teach a group of students that were looked down upon and seen as “inferior” to white students. However, after much opposition, a plan was finally proposed. The plan called for the integration to happen in three phases. First, during the 1957-1958 school year, the senior high school would be integrated, then after completion at the senior high level, the junior high would be integrated, and the elementary levels would follow in due time. Seventeen students were chosen from hundreds of applicants to be the first black teenagers to begin the integration process. The town went into an uproar. Many acts of violence were committed toward the African-Americans in the city. Racism and segregation seemed to be on the rise. Most black students decided to stay at Horace Mann, the black high school that was underfunded and didn’t boast a very high graduation rate, let alone much of a college acceptance percentage.
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Some out of fear and others just accepted the harsh and unfair circumstances. The state and town passed laws and ordinances as the school year drew near in order to keep the school from integrating. Even the state governor refused for the desegregation process to happen without resistance. Some blacks also opposed the desegregation for fear of future repercussions. The nine brave students, however, refused to be stopped. On September 3, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown (Trickey), Carlotta Walls (LaNier), Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray (Karlmark), Thelma Mothershed-Wair, and Melba Patillo Beals set off for school. The governor of Arkansas, Orvel Faubus, had sent National Guardsmen to the school the previous day to surround the building and keep all African-Americans from entering its doors. He stated in an interview that the reason for the troops was he heard a rumor that white supremacists were going to riot and he was just protecting the students. He declared Central High off-limits to all people of color “in order for their own protection”. The students never did make it into school that day. Before they even reached the property they were met with great resistance from racist citizens who spat upon them, mocked them, threw sharp objects at them, and even physically beat them.
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Melba describes the deep hurt she felt as for the first time in her life she saw the harsh reality of racism at its worst. The next day the students met with Daisy Bates, the head of the regional NAACP, and decided to all walk in together. The problem was, Ms. Bates had tried to call all of the students but one girl, Elizabeth Eckford, didn’t own a phone. She never heard of the plan and attempted to walk into the school herself. A mob of people surrounded her and threatened to hang her all the while the Arkansas National Guard did nothing. She escaped without injury but Beals and the others realized how serious of a matter this had come to.
The school began to get national attention and the students were labeled as the “Little Rock Nine”. They were nine brave, young African-American students from honest, hardworking, God-fearing families who were taking a stand for the oppression that their people had faced for the past couple of centuries in America. Beals was an aspiring young woman who dreamt of receiving a formal education and one day becoming a prominent member of both the black and white communities. Their story came at a time during the height of the civil rights movements that were sweeping across the states. white people were beginning to realize that coexistence with other racial groups was possible and even beneficial to society at-large. Unfortunately, the people of Little Rock, Arkansas, had not been introduced to this way of life. Some out of fear, others out of ignorance, and still others out of hatred couldn’t stand the idea of blacks and whites living together peacefully. Even others didn’t think the South was quite ready for the change. Even Governor Faubus himself said that the state would integrate when the time was right. The African-Americans had been experiencing segregation all of their lives.
The blacks were forced to use separate restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, sidewalks, and other public places. Beals recalls one of her experiences with segregation in the city when she tells the story of when she was only five years old and saved up all of her money in order to buy a ticket on the merry-go-round at the park. When she finally had enough, she boldly walked to the ticket-taker who promptly denied her admittance. He told her that the ride was full even though she pointed out empty seats to him. She fled the park quickly that day, but she never was able to escape the horrible memories of her childhood. She wrote in her diary at the age of sixteen: “In 1957 while most teenage girls were listening to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”, watching Elvis gyrate, and collecting cindine slips, I was escaping the hanging rope of a lynch mob, dodging sticks of dynamite, and washing away burning acid spray into my eyes.” The state or local governments did nothing to try and stop this, in fact, they even passed a few laws that made things worse.
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Before the school year had even started in 1957, a member of the anti-integration group filed suit against the state because she was afraid for her children and the children of the other white parents because the black students were notorious for forming gangs and causing violence. The court judge even backed the case and ruled in her favor. Luckily, with many efforts, the federal courts overturned this ruling and the students were allowed to continue with their integration efforts. Some city ordinances were passed that forced blacks to always go to the end of lines, wait for the white folks to finish their tasks before any blacks could begin theirs, and even if a white person was walking down the street, a black person had to get out of the way and allow them to pass. If a colored person broke one of these laws, they could be beaten, injured, thrown in prison and charged with bogus crimes, or they may even “vanish”. The colored children were raised by their parents who taught them to expect racism and segregation and to even accept it because any opposition to the white people meant harsher penalties and even more laws to be passed. This was a major reason why even some blacks opposed the integration of colored children into the white schools and into the white society.
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They figured that even though the conditions and quality of their children’s education was not as good as the whites, at least they would be able to live in a peaceful, non-violent way. Melba recalled a confrontation with a woman at church whom she had known for many years. As she put it, “I was startled when a woman I’d seen often enough but didn’t really know began lecturing me. For a moment I feared she was even going to haul off and hit me. She was beside herself with anger. I could barely get my good morning in because she was talking very loud, attracting attention as she told me I was too fancy for my britches and the other people in our community would pay for my uppity need to be with white folks.” Well, the students refused to go down without an intense struggle. The NAACP, led by Daisy Bates, organized boycotts against white businesses in Little Rock and even took the case to federal court, where it became a nationwide constitutional crisis. Churches held vigils and prayer meetings, and black friends united together in community efforts to clean up the town and prove their acceptability. Beals held on tightly to her religious views and kept her faith in God throughout the entire ordeal.
She felt that as long as she was humble and steadfast, then the Lord would reward her in the end. Her faith in God was her one true hope when everything else had failed her and she felt like giving up. Melba also found strength in her grandmother, who was always there for her in the roughest times. Her grandma always knew the right thing to say at the right time in order to provide support and comfort. On September 20, a judge ruled in favor of the students and prevented Governor Faubus from using the National Guard to prevent entry into the school. On Monday, September 23, the nine black students left for school together. An enormous mob outside was waiting for them but they pressed on. Amidst racial slurs being shouted at them, death threats being proposed, objects being thrown, and human barricaded blocking them, the students boldly marched up to the doors of the school. On the outside, they remained stoic, not allowing any emotion to be shown for fear the mob would become even more violent. On the inside, however, Melba feared for her life. She was absolutely sure that her death was imminent and quickly approaching, but the students managed to walk inside. President Eisenhower had sent in federal troops to make sure that the scene remained safe and that the students made it through the school day without harm. Men in military uniform escorted all of the students around the building. This made Melba feel even more different and awkward than before, but she pressed on, and so did the other students. Even though the guards were with the students, they still experienced constant hatred and acts of racial violence. Insults were yells, black students were punched, lockers were destroyed, and fights broke out. Melba even had sticks of dynamite tossed her way, she was stabbed, and a white student intentionally sprayed acid into her eyes, nearly causing permanent blindness.
... % for the late 90's. (Billboard Studies) If the schools provided the students with more options, then they could be elsewhere and ... a young black girl fought for the rights go to school with white children. All in all, people must be heard in ... quiet subtle little things like press down the black and white keys of a piano while they bless the room with ...
As the year went by the insults decreased gradually, but the hatred still remained. Eventually the troops left and the students had to fend for themselves. Minnijean Brown was expelled just before Christmas because she could not handle the hatred anymore and intentionally dumped a lunch tray on two white boys. She was allowed to come back to the school for the next semester but then permanently expelled for calling a white girl who provoked her “white trash”. This gave the white students at the school something to be excited about. The hate crimes began to happen more frequently. Nevertheless, the other eight students never blinked and eye or started anything, they only turned the other cheek in a very brave, almost warrior-like way.
The other eight students finished school that year and one of them even graduated. Ernest Green became the first colored student to ever graduate from Central High School. The black students could never have dreamed of a happier day. They had successfully completed the unthinkable. Even though all of the cards were stacked up against them, the managed to fight through all of the hate and emerge and winners in a battle against racism. This was a huge victory for the entire African-American society. But the war was not over. The governor signed a bill that allowed him to shut down all four of Little Rock’s public schools. The families of the Little Rock Nine (now eight) students fell under enormous pressure from all sides. Some of them lost their jobs, some moved, and other gave up. Melba and four other students took correspondence courses from Arkansas State University while waiting for the high schools to open. The case was already in the Supreme Court and Beals knew it was only a matter of time. She patiently waited until the 1959 ruling was announced that declared Governor Faubus’s bill unconstitutional, forcing him to reopen the doors. Melba Beals did not, however, go back to Central High School. During the period when the schools were closed down, the death threats and violent acts toward Melba’s family escalated. Fearing her life, Melba moved to California to live in a safer environment where she could continue working Toward her educational dreams. The members of the Little Rock Nine, along with help from their family members, community, churches, and national organizations proved that although some people will go to great lengths in order to prevent desegregation, with hard work and determination, and a little bit of luck, things can and will get better. They were part of a stepping stone that helped the civil rights movement to take off and eventually led to complete integration of all ethnic groups in America.
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The definition of a warrior is “one who is engaged in or experienced in battle, or in the military life; a soldier; a champion”. Melba Beals proved to be a warrior throughout all of the events that surrounded the integration of Central High School. Although she eventually had to leave town, she and the other eight students showed true bravery and courage when they decided to scale the walls of segregation and end the oppression of the white people in Little Rock. Beals was truly woman who fought hard and kept her faith in route to becoming a “warrior” and eventually a “champion” in the fight for civil rights. Beals, Melba Patillo. “Warriors Don’t Cry.” Pocket Books. (February 1995). Cozzens, Lisa. “The Civil Rights Movement 1955-1965.” African American History. http://fledge.watson.org/~lisa/ blackhistory/civilrights-55-65 (25 May 1998).
Beals, Melba Patillo. “Warriors Don’t Cry.” Pocket Books. (February 1995). Cozzens, Lisa. “The Civil Rights Movement 1955-1965.” African American History. http://fledge.watson.org/~lisa/ blackhistory/civilrights-55-65 (25 May 1998).