Monday, September 25, 2017, marked the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine integrating the campus at Central High School following a ruling handed down by the United States Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education. Before this consequential decision, Mendez v. Westminster, ten years prior, set a legal precedent when a California circuit court ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional. This ruling had a direct impact the Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown v. Board case which set a federal mandate that segregated schools are unconstitutional.
On that fateful day in 1957, nine black students, Melba Pattillo Beals, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Thelma Mothershed,Terrence Roberts, and Jefferson Thomas, attempting to attend school, were met with mobs and troops standing in their way. A staunch segregationist, Governor George Wallace, deployed the national guard to block the doors to Central High School. Days later, President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and ordered Central be desegregated, and black students be allowed in undeterred. The National Guard remained on campus for a year following the initial orders.
One of the nine, Melba Pattillo Beals, recalls “stark raving fear,” but decided to attend Central High School “because they had more privileges; they had more equipment; they had five floors of opportunities.”
A mob surrounded, 15-year old, Elizabeth Eckford and threatened to lynch her.
“I could hear the noise, the name-calling, and stuff, but I didn’t know that people were getting knocked down with sticks and bats and bricks and all that. It took a long time for me to realize how much danger I faced,” recalled Jefferson Thomas.
Ernest Green said he would endure the whole ordeal over again for the benefit of the community.
We have made progress since Brown v. Board, but segregation still exists in our public schools. Much of it attributed to the opportunity gap, lack of resources, a system of education that is not culturally competent but the system itself is complicit and keeping the spirit of segregation alive. The Little Rock Nine endured hellish conditions for merely attempting to get an education. As we look back at their experiences, we thank them for their sacrifice of being the first. We owe it to them to continue to make strides to educational excellence through equity for all kids.