Eight surviving members of the Little Rock Nine who, as teens, braved the wrath of white mobs, pupils and politicians in the desegregation of Central High School were reunited Friday to field questions 60 years after the crisis.
Nine volunteer students — Minnijean Brown Trickey, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Melba Pattillo Beals, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls LaNier — became the first black youths to attend a full day of classes at the high school in September 1957.
They faced extreme opposition, including from then-Gov. Orval Faubus, who barred the students from the school by deploying the state National Guard. He relented after President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched military troops to help get the students in.
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Photos by Emma Pettit
Photos by Emma Pettit
On Friday, all eight of the Little Rock Nine — Thomas died in 2010 — gathered in Sturgis Hall at the Clinton School of Public Service in Arkansas' capital to discuss their participation in what became a milestone in the national civil-rights movement.
The news conference was moderated by Myron and Stephanie Jackson.
Myron Jackson asked the first question: "What would you say to that teenager who faced the mob? ... What would you say to that teen today?"
"I would probably abide the same way," Eckford said, adding that she is not as "naive" now as she was then.
"You will be protected; you will be OK," Beals answered. "It's all going to be OK — as long as you follow the rules, as long as you have compassion for all."
Trickey would tell her younger self: "You don't have to be perfect to change the world."
"I would say to that kid, 'I miss you,'" Karlmark said.
In 2017, the Central High School student body is ethnically diverse and academically strong, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. But other Little Rock campuses are far less racially diverse, state data show.
The 60th anniversary also comes on the heels of a lawsuit settlement between the district and a group of black plaintiffs, who say school facilities and academic options were unequally distributed between black and white students.
Not all are pleased at the district-sponsored commemorative events to mark 60 years since the crisis, encompassed under the slogan, “Reflections of Progress.”
Grassroots Arkansas, a group that advocated for local control of the district, unveiled an alternative set of events tied to the theme "Sixty Years: Still Fighting." And judge and minister Wendell Griffen, known for being outspoken on social justice issues, opposed the festivities in a sermon he later posted on his blog.
He wrote, “We will not dress up and attend events designed to portray Little Rock and Arkansas as a progressive city and state.”
Events remembering the crisis include a symposium from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Clinton Presidential Center. On Monday, former President Bill Clinton, joined by the eight living members of the Little Rock Nine, will give an address at Central High School.
Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.