Monday marked the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, a group of Black teenagers who broke the segregation barrier at an all-White high in the capital city of Arkansas in 1957.
Little Rock’s Central High School was desegregated thanks in part to then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower following the historic verdict of Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled that schools that were not integrated were in violation of federal law. The Little Rock School Board was the first in the nation to comply with the ruling.
Below are a sampling of photos, videos and quotes from the nine brave souls who emerged victorious in the face of educational adversity to tell their stories.
Melba Pattillo Beals:
“Nobody presents you with a handbook when your teething and says ‘Here’s how you must behave as a second class citizen,’” Beals wrote in “Warriors Don’t Cry,” her 1994 book. “Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self esteem each day.”
“The night before when the governor went on television and announced that he had called out the Arkansas National Guard, I thought that he had done this to insure the protection of all the students,” Eckford recalled, according to the website Facing History & Ourselves. “We did not have a telephone, so inadvertently we were not contacted to let us know that Daisy Bates of NAACP had arranged for some ministers to accompany the students in a group. And so, it was I that arrived alone.”
“It’s been an interesting year…. I’ve had a course in human relations firsthand,” Green said in retrospect, according to the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Gloria Ray Karlmark:
“It would put me in doubt about my very existence,” Karlmark said, according to the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. “Some things are worth dying for. I stopped being me. I became what was a very important principle, every day in school.”
Carlotta Walls Lanier:
“Yes, I saw all of the anger, and the ugly faces across the street, but I ignored them, and I really did consider them ignorant people,” Lanier told the Smithsonian Magazine. “To be honest with you, that is what really got me through the whole year, that I knew this was ignorance that was making these statements and not the type of people that I would associate with.”
“In Little Rock, every possible decision had a racial component: where you could live, where you could to go to school, whether you could work or not, whether you could get a bank loan… who you could marry,” Roberts said about his decision to volunteer to enroll in Central High. “This made no sense to me, especially as I discovered there is no such thing as race.”
“I had no reason to think that the quiet, peaceful place where I grew up could change so drastically,” Thomas, the only member of the Little Rock Nine who is no longer alive, said about his hometown experience integrating Central High.
Minnijean Brown Trickey:
“What I think about the United States is that we still don’t know what racism is [and] we’re never going to find out because we don’t talk about it,” Trickey told The New York Times’ Upfront in 2012 when asked if she would do it again given the option.
Thelma Mothershed Wair:
“I was determined to treat my kids equally,” Wair has said about her adult experience as a teacher. “I taught home economics. I taught white kids and helped them and graded them fairly.”