In the summer of 1957, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, made plans to desegregate its public schools.
On September 2, the night before school was to start, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the state's National Guard to surround Little Rock Central High School and prevent any black students from entering in order, he claimed, to protect citizens and property from possible violence by protesters he claimed were headed in caravans toward Little Rock.
A web page devoted to the story tells what happened after that:
On September 20, 1957, Judge Ronald N. Davies granted the NAACP lawyers, Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton, the right to stop Governor Faubus from using the National Guard to stop the students from entering the high school. Governor Faubus finally agreed with them about not using the National Guard, but he wished the nine would stay away from Central High until integration could occur without violence. He knew there would be violence because of the violence last time when the Whites beat the Blacks because they didn't want African-American kids in their school.
On Monday, September 23, 1957, the nine students set off for the high school. They knew there would be violence so they went in the rear entrance. White mobs were there to protest because they didn’t want any Blacks in their school and the reporters were there in support of the Blacks. White mobs that were waiting for the nine students beat up black reporters because they didn’t want them near their school. When the mob heard the nine students had entered the school they went crazy. The black students left out the rear exit right when the mob came in so they wouldn’t get hurt.
To make sure that the students completed a successful day of school, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. Each student had their own patroller to walk with them to school and during school, but Whites still beat them. They stabbed Melba Patillo and sprayed acid into her eyes. If it weren’t for the 101st patroller throwing water over her eyes she would have been blind for the rest of her life.
After a few weeks, the patrollers left and the nine students had to protect themselves. Finally Christmas came around and the Blacks wanted to get away from the Whites. Eight of the nine students couldn’t be happier to get a break from school, but not Minnijean Brown. She was suspended for dumping her lunch on two white males because they were insulting her. The Whites told the press that they didn’t blame her for getting mad. She was suspended for 6 days. Then she was suspended again for calling a white girl, "White Trash." None of the Whites were suspended.
The other eight all finished the school year successfully, and Earnest Green Graduated that spring. He was the first black student ever to graduate from Central High.
Although Earnest Green graduated, segregationists in Arkansas wanted to stop the other seven remaining students from doing the same. The school board asked for an injunction delaying integration until 1961. Even though the injunction was granted at first, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said no to the injunction in August of 1958. The court told Little Rock it must integrate.
Governor Faubus had other plans. He signed a package of segregation bills that were passed by the Arkansas legislature, including a bill that granted him the power to shut down the Little Rock Public High Schools.
Just a few weeks later, the parents of the nine black students came under tremendous pressure. The families either were forced to resign from their jobs or were fired because of what was happening at the school. One of the families moved away. The five students that remained in Little Rock took courses from the University of Arkansas while they waited for their school to reopen.
The summer of 1959 came and the act that Governor Faubus had used to shut down the school was declared unconstitutional. Yet again Governor Faubus started to work on another law to take its place. To avoid the law, the school board opened up the school early on August 12, 1959. Only two Blacks that were assigned to Central High were members of the original Little Rock nine, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls. The other three went to the new Hall High. Both Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls graduated that spring.
They didn't start out being known as the Little Rock Nine but now they are in America's history books together. Here is a brief glimpse at these former students and what they are doing today, 40 years after this momentus year.
These nine students are unanimous in proclaiming the true heroes of the crisis at Central High School were their parents, who supported them and kept the faith that the process was right and that what they endured would give them opportunities they deserved.
In 1958, he became the first black student to graduate from Central High School. He graduated from Michigan State University and served as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Jimmy Carter. He currently is a managing partner and vice president of Lehman Brothers in Washington, D.C.
The only one of the nine still living in Little Rock, Elizabeth made a career of the U.S. Army that included work as a journalist. In 1974, she returned to the home in which she grew up and is now a part-time social worker and mother of two sons.
He graduated from Central in 1960, following a year in which Little Rock's public high schools were ordered closed by the legislature to prevent desegregation. Today, he is an accountant with the U.S. Department of Defense and lives in Anaheim, Calif.
Dr. Terrence Roberts
Following the historic year at Central, his family moved to Los Angeles where he completed high school. He earned a doctorate degree and teaches at the University of California at Los Angeles and Antioc College. He also is a clinical psychologist.
Carlotta Walls Lanier
One of only three of the nine who eventually graduated from Central, she and Jefferson Thomas returned for their senior year in 1959. She graduated from Michigan State University and presently lives in Englewood, Colorado, where she is in real estate.
Minnijean Brown Trickey
She was expelled from Central High in February, 1958, after several incidents, including her dumping a bowl of chili on one of her antagonists in the school cafeteria. She moved with her husband to Canada during the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and today is a writer and social worker in Ontario.
Gloria Ray Karlmark
She graduated from Illinois Technical College and received a post-graduate degree in Stockholm, Sweden. She was a prolific computer science writer and at one time successfully published magazines in 39 countries. Now retired, she divides her time between homes in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Stockholm, where her husband's family lives.
She graduated from college, then made a career of teaching. She lives in Belleville, Illinois, where she is a volunteer in a program for abused women.
Melba Pattillo Beals
She is an author and former journalist for People magazine and NBC and lives in San Francisco.
The following story comes from the Emporia, Gazette (Kansas).
Civil Rights Struggle Comes Along
By Scott Rochat
On a night when she was frequently praised for her courage, Bonner and Bonner lecturer Minnijean Brown Trickey of the “Little Rock Nine” insisted that others had done just as much for civil rights but with less fanfare.
As a teenager, Trickey was one of nine black students who attended a formerly all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Newspapers and TV cameras showed the nine being barred from the school on their first day by the Arkansas National Guard, who had been placed at the school by Gov. Orville Faubus.
Adults — mostly women, Trickey recalled — heckled the students and shouted death threats.
She hadn’t expected any of it when she’d volunteered to go to Central. She’d even spent two days picking out her dress for the first day.
“What I felt most was let down by my country,” Trickey said in a press conference before Wednesday night’s lecture at Albert Taylor Hall. “I’d done the Pledge of Allegiance and hiding from the Russians under my desk. Now soldiers were preventing me from going to school. ... It was a real shock to me. I had never witnessed violence or been called a name.
“It felt like a steel rod came up through my back when I saw how stupid people were willing to behave to stop me,” she added. “I said ‘I’ll be back’ — and I said it before Arnold!”
President Dwight Eisenhower eventually responded by calling up the 101st Airborne and having them escort the teens into the school and through the halls.
Even so, Central High was a long way from paradise. Each of the nine had at least one class they felt safe in because of a teacher who kept order, but they also each had at least two where they knew anything could happen.
“What made you keep coming back to a school where you weren’t wanted?” a student asked at the lecture.
“I want to be really honest,” Trickey responded. “The media said I was brave and courageous and that’s OK.
“But at a certain point,” she added with mischief in her voice, “I think we kept coming back because we wanted to see what they would come up with the next day!”
The audience laughed and applauded. One young black woman said she also had gone to Little Rock Central High and thanked Trickey for making it possible. A black man said he could remember having to go to his own school in the back of the bus and use a separate drinking fountain from the white students.
“If it wasn’t for what the other eight and you did, we’d probably still be where we were then,” he said.
“No!” Trickey disagreed with force. “We were just the ones they took the pictures of. This was happening in every hamlet and village and big city. Yes. It was a whole bunch of people.”
And it was not the end of the story for Trickey, who remained active in civil rights long after leaving the school. She met her husband at a civil rights gathering. At another, a sit-in in Memphis, she was thrown into a cell with 27 other protesters and found out she was claustrophobic.
“I decided, ‘Next time I get arrested, I’m only going to be with 10 people,’” she said.
The ‘real heroes’
Under President Bill Clinton, Trickey served as the Department of the Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for workforce diversity — something of an irony, because she considers “diversity” to be an overly nice, toothless phrase.
But she loves variety in a culture, noting that only by seeing the reactions of people different from you do you truly learn about yourself. Besides, she said, it makes life interesting.
“At a meeting — maybe the wine was too good — I said ‘Thank goodness for Hispanics,’” Trickey told the audience. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have died of boredom.”
She never really thought about the role she had played until years later. Her daughter was 16 before she knew Mom had been one of the Little Rock Nine. Trickey’s mother, now 91, still speaks very little about that time.
To Trickey, those parents were the ones who showed the real courage — especially since, like most teens, the Nine never said much about what happened at school.
“They had to guess what was happening and watch what was happening to us,” she said. “My father lost his business. Nine parents lost their jobs. As a parent, I can see that they were the real heroes just by allowing us to go.”
Trickey is a dedicated proponent of nonviolence, though she didn’t start as a perfect one — at Little Rock Central High, she “accidentally” spilled chili on a white boy when other students blocked her way in the cafeteria. The two reconciled as adults and judged a chili contest together at the school in 2005.
Conflicts and fear
She also urges others to remember Little Rock so that the same mistakes aren’t made again.
Audience member Cathy Terrell, a past King Day speaker who works with high school kids, said she admired Trickey but wasn’t sure she could do what Trickey had done.
“I still can see (with the kids) that a lot of things haven’t changed — it’s subtle,” Terrell said. “I want to do something about it. But at the same time I’m conflicted. Part of me wants to keep my comfortable middle-class life. I don’t want to live the life you lived. I don’t want to be arrested.”
“Everyone is conflicted,” Trickey said gently. “You might have to get kicked out of a few things. And you might find out how strong and courageous you are because you got kicked out of a few things. ...
“It’s not about being arrested,” Trickey said. “It’s about being able to sleep at night. ... We’re all scared. And what we’re waiting for is for someone who’s not scared, to help us not be so scared.”