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story.lead_photo.caption Hazel Bryan shouts insults at Elizabeth Eckford as she walks past a line of National Guardsman.

Elizabeth Eckford spoke softly, tersely, and with understated power.

Even as a child, she'd needed no words to speak profoundly. She'd needed only to endure.

All she was trying to do the morning of Sept. 5, 1957--her head down, her notebook at her chest, her manner shy and her dignity soaring--was go to school.

She had a new homemade dress. She was excited, but tense. Her father, who worked nights and normally slept late, was up, pacing. The family gathered for a prayer before she headed out alone, all of 15, to catch the city bus.

Due to an oversight occurring because her family had no phone, she hadn't received word that, because of demagogic state politics and the rumored gathering of brutal white hate, the youths known as the Little Rock Nine would arrive together with adult accompaniment for the first day of school.

The idea had been for these carefully chosen standout children to make history by daring to carry their dark complexions into Little Rock Central High School to desegregate that raging Southern Caucasian fortress.

But the eight were turned back.

I use "desegregate," not "integrate," because Eckford uses "desegregate," and she gets to decide, and she is right.

That wasn't racial integration, she told an admiring audience during a panel discussion Thursday night with Janis Kearney and Annie Abrams at UA-Pulaski Tech. It was, she said, a minimalist acquiescence to the law.

It was the least Little Rock could do.

That morning in 1957, Eckford walked two blocks from a bus stop to the massive, imposing school. She saw a crowd and thought that odd. She heard murmuring as she came closer. She was relieved to see National Guardsmen, then confused when the soldiers raised their weapons to deny her passage to the school grounds.

The photograph that went around the world, and horrified anyone of human decency, showed white primitives coming up behind to stalk and hurl slurs at this solitary girl.

It happened as she ventured away from the place of learning that had rejected her and toward a bus bench that she thought might provide solace. It showed a white girl shouting at her angrily.

If I were to write a caption, I'd choose "black supremacy."

Prejudice, she told this night's audience at Pulaski Tech, is about people trying to make you believe you are less than they are. You find yourself indeed feeling lesser, she said, when you are shunned day after day--until sixth period and speech class when two white kids unfailingly talked with her.

They couldn't have known how much that meant to her, she said. She told them 30 years later. She never mentioned their names publicly because she feared their families might sustain community reprisal.

For decades, Eckford spoke not a public word about the experience. She said it was because of the pain.

She began talking to schoolkids in 1999, and, for a while, cried every time.

"But now I don't cry," she said, winning applause, presumably for overcoming. But she had always overcome. She had always been more, not less--when she cried, when she was silent, when she put one tender foot in front of the other.

At 76, Eckford sat in front of Thursday's audience still and stately, but somehow ill at ease. She spoke with low-volume articulation. She tended to deliver two or three well-designed and on-point sentences. Then she stopped talking. You waited a couple of seconds for her to continue. But she didn't. And the moderator moved on.

With elegant forbearance, Eckford eschewed racial resentment, racial politics or even a racial framing of this great ordeal of her life and our time.

We all come from Africa and we all contain pieces of each other, she said. Race, she said, is an arbitrary social construction of our detrimental choosing that is all about a power-setting order.

Kearney, the moderator, asked Eckford the ultimate question: Sixty years after, was what she endured worth it?

Whites have been running out of public schools ever since Eckford bravely walked toward one.

Eckford did not answer. The question had two parts, and she replied to the other, then stopped.

This question that loomed for the evening looms over us every day. For the seminal investment of Elizabeth's pain and our shame, what is today's dividend?

I thought about asking her again after the program. But the people selling her book said she would not appear for a signing.

Then I saw her. She was trying to leave, but elevators must be waited for. Admirers--young black female students, mainly--were gathered around her, seeking and taking photos.

I thought that Eckford, while patiently obliging, seemed uncomfortable standing in the middle of pressing people.

The moment was right for a Little Rock white man, at long last, to leave Elizabeth Eckford alone.

It's not on her if we've wasted her pain.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 02/13/2018

Print Headline: Elizabeth endures

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  • mozarky2
    February 13, 2018 at 8:18 p.m.

    I'm back! Now, to this booming economy, courtesy of President Trump!
    More reasons "progs" are suicidal:
    Federal budget shows a $50 BILLION surplus for January, the first month of the monumental Trump tax cuts!
    Small businesses are expanding, hiring, and raising wages!
    Home prices hit new record highs!
    Now, for a benefit of this Trump economy:
    Polling shows that only six states have a net negative approval rating of President Trump. As expected, they are the schiffholes of CA, HI, MA, MD, RI, and VT. That means 44 states have President Trump polling in net positive margins.
    Back in a bit with some stuff that "progs" will never see coming...

  • RBear
    February 13, 2018 at 8:20 p.m.

    piggie to your point about me. Yea, I'm unemployed, sitting around in coffee shops all day, drawing that unemployment check. Why should I get a job when your tax dollars helped me get to this point? I guess I'm too picky and why shouldn't I be. Trump is going to make sure I have a job soon enough.

  • wildblueyonder
    February 13, 2018 at 8:45 p.m.

    Rbear, I'm sorry to hear you're unemployed. That's not a fun experience as I have been there before. I hope you can find work soon and I'm not kidding about it. I really do.

  • mozarky2
    February 13, 2018 at 8:50 p.m.

    I'll be 70 in a little over two months, and I've never been unemployed.
    gohog, I'm not as concerned about him being unemployed as I am about him being ignorant, arrogant, and a schiffhole.

  • mozarky2
    February 13, 2018 at 11:12 p.m.

    Adam Rippon bi***es for weeks about Vice-President Pence, who never once mentioned Rippon.
    Um, Adam, had you concentrated on your training, perhaps you could have led your team to gold. Instead, you focused your unsubstantiated hatred on Pence.
    Honestly, can you provide me with one quote where Pence utters an anti-gay slur?
    Instead, you chose to make this Olympics all about you, in a TEAM competition, no less!
    EPIC fail!!!
    You had your chance at gold, but you chose bronze...congratulations!
    (Hey, RB-here's your drama queen)!

  • RBear
    February 14, 2018 at 4:50 a.m.

    gohogs so don't take this the wrong way. I was having fun with you on your last comment about my posting during the day. I really do appreciate your concern. I'm fine and fully employed. No way I could let that go with the feeling of concern from you. Putting all our back and forth aside, you're a good person and that last bit helped solidify my opinion.
    Quite honestly, I'm doing quite well in my career, having shifted from enterprise architecture to information security. The reason you see me post during the day is because I check the boards walking to meetings or in down times. You HAVE to take mental breaks occasionally in this line of business and I'll do that sometimes, just to give the brain a break. That's when you see me post or at lunch.
    Thanks for the concern and hopefully no hard feelings on the misleading comment. Hope your'e doing well also.

  • RBear
    February 14, 2018 at 4:58 a.m.

    moz how pathetic you are to even comment on sports. Sooooo ... a little on this story which apparently you know NOTHING about. Rippon was asked about Pence by reporters and responded that he wouldn't meet with Pence while on the trip, partly because of Pence's past history regarding conversion therapy, but more importantly because he was concentrating on his performance with Team USA.
    Rippon posted a flawless performance that had no mistakes during it, but wasn't as technically challenging at the end as some of the other competitors. In figure skating, jumps executed towards the end of the performance score higher than at the beginning. Other team members had mistakes in their performance that dragged the scores down, namely Nathan Chen who had mistakes in his performance at the start. A bronze was a great showing by Team USA which wasn't really expected to medal.
    The fact you would attack Rippon in that way shows how freaking ignorant you are of the sport. Sorry, but you showed how much of an ignorant troll you are just then. Regarding Olympians and the White House, you are probably going to find several who are going to ditch the trip this year because of the current inhabitant.

  • RBear
    February 14, 2018 at 7:58 a.m.

    moz let's just show how STUPID your comment was on Rippon's performance. Looking at the cumulative results of the Team event, Rippon scored the second highest score of any of the US scores, scoring an 8 in the singles skating. Not that you should be attacking any one of the athletes, but we scored a 6 in ladies and a couple of 7s in pair skating. So, as you can see it wasn't Rippon that dragged the team down. Regardless, with Canada scoring 3 10s and the OAR scoring 3 10s there was no way the US could have gotten any higher.
    As I stated, Rippon chose to NOT make it about Pence during the competition and focus on the competition. Pence wanted to meet with him in PyeongChang, trying to score a photo op, disregarding the athlete's need to concentrate. If anyone was trying to create the distraction, it was Pence.

  • wildblueyonder
    February 14, 2018 at 8:45 a.m.

    Rbear, thanks for the posts. I am doing well and I'm glad you are as well. No offense taken by the "misleading comment", just glad to know it was facetious. You know, each of has said a lot of disparaging remarks at times to one another. I know that's no excuse but at times, for lack of a better term, I've let my frustration vent in the wrong ways. Really, my subscription ends soon but I wish you success in all your ventures and whatever path you've chosen.

  • RBear
    February 14, 2018 at 9 a.m.

    Gohogs thanks a bunch. That means a lot. A little more back story. I left an amazing job in San Antonio to come back to Arkansas to help take care of my parents. In SAT, I was blessed with the opportunity to score patents in financial technology and was on the team that invented something everyone uses today to deposit checks with their phone.
    But that all means nothing for the opportunity to spend time with parents in their final years. Arkansas is my native home and glad to be back.
    Yep, we may spar passionately but I will miss you when it does expire. Have a great one.