Yesterday I attended an inspiring Zoom session as part of the NFPW conference. our speaker was Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, the first Black students at Central High School.
When she arrived at the campus the morning of September 4, 1957, she was all alone, a shy 15-year-old surrounded by thousands of angry, screaming people.
What courage it took for a terrified teenager to face down an angry mob! When the National Guard barred her from entering the building, she realized she couldn’t get back to the bus stop she’d arrived at. She remembered another bus stop at the other edge of campus, so she began walking toward it, all the while being jeered at by students and adults who spat on her, yelled at her to go back to Africa, and threatened to lynch her. Eckford never made it into Central High School that day. But a few weeks later, the Nine tried again, together, and succeeded. And then they had to endure abuse from other students every day of the next year.
Eckford takes issue with people who say she and the other students integrated the school. That wasn’t integration, she says. She and the others were grudgingly allowed to be there, but only because they couldn’t legally be kept out. They were never treated like part of the school, teachers didn’t call on them, and they were barred from most activities that White students took for granted. They were constantly harassed and abused by their fellow students. They may have desegregated the school, but they were not integrated.