Monday, October 5, 2009

Memory Monday- The Little Rock Nine

I was too young to remember the Little Rock Nine, the nine black students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. I was born there and at two years-old moved with my parents to Oakland, California. We were frequent visitors to Arkansas, but it was not until I was much older did I read about and realize the sacrifices those young people and their families made.

I read several of the Little Rock Nine memoirs, and I am currently reading Carlotta Walls Lanier’s account, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. The youngest of the nine at 14, Walls Lanier would not speak of the ordeal; so traumatized was she, for thirty years. She left Little Rock in 1960, as did her immediate family after the bombing of her home. Lanier Walls was a bright, ambitious, intelligent young lady, who just wanted to best education possible to secure the future she felt she deserved, yet there were thousands of people who tried to take that basic right away from her. And Why? Because they were threatened by the color of her skin and threatened that their way of life would be changed. Arkansas’ Governor Faubus was determined to keep the six girls and three boys from entering Central High by calling out the National Guard. Angry white parents taunted, threw things, berated these youngsters, their faces full of hate. But Daisy Bates, a journalist and activist who was born in my mother’s hometown of Huttig, was unafraid of standing up to the white establishment that dared violate these young people’s rights to an educated as mandated by the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.

This past summer I visited Little Rock, along with my mother, sister and niece as part of our family reunion in the southern part of Arkansas. It is a much different city then it was in 1957. You would never have known this was formerly a Jim Crow city. We spent a lot of the time visiting and reliving the history of that city. We visited my parents’ alma mater, Philander Smith College, the Mosaic Templar Museum on 9th Street, other museums. We also visited Central High and the majestic school’s architecture is amazing. Lanier Walls gives the history of how this school came to be built and why she so wanted to attend. Earlier this year, monuments were erected to the Little Rock nine on the Capitol grounds and we of course, visited that. We took lots of pictures at both places.

Last year in 2008, Soledad O’Brien of CNN featured Central High in her Black in America series. Little Rock schools are totally integrated, I dare say, more integrated than the schools in Oakland. So it pained me that now that black students can freely attend Central High--- which is still considered prestigious, that the students self-segregate themselves and that black students are routinely herded into low-achieving classes. I know this is not endemic to Little Rock particularly but a symptom of the inequality of the educational and economic structures of this country. However, I am proud of the great many prominent African Americans that graduated from Central High and those faces I saw in the glass cases honoring high-achieving students. All in all, I have to say I am pretty much proud of my birth home.

Enjoy the pictures.

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