Black History, More than a Month

“Warriors Don’t Cry”

The Little Rock Nine is pictured above

Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine, then and now pictured below.

February 2018

As we celebrate Black History Month in Little Rock during the school year of the 60th Anniversary of Central High School’s historic integration in 1957, we are honored to remember the brave members of the Little Rock Nine for their heroic contribution to equality and progress: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas (1942 – 2010), Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals.

At JCA, we also want to recognize the importance of not treating their sacrifice and triumph as frozen in time, but as the result of years of struggle and strategy, with more work to be done. In her book, Warriors Don’t Cry, Little Rock Nine member Melba Pattillo Beals looks back on those difficult days–which many of us today might struggle even to imagine–and the later celebration, with profound direction for our work ahead:

At the time, I had no idea of the impact or importance of our successful entry and very difficult year as students inside Central High. It would turn out that our determination to remain in school, despite having to tread through a jungle of hatred and human torture from segregationists, would help to change the course of history and grant access to equality and opportunity for people of color.

On August 20, 2005, hundreds of people, many of them white Arkansans, gathered on the grounds of the Arkansas state capitol for the unveiling of statues of the nine of us. On this day, many of the people who once scorned us have come to congratulate us for standing our ground, for claiming our equality, for completing that year at Central High School against all odds.

Suddenly the throng of reporters was pushing forward, moving closer, only a few feet away, determined to get pictures of me and the eight others as we stared at our young images. We nine were oblivious as we examined our younger selves. We were overwhelmed with tears, immersed in the moment, emotionally weeping at the sight of the nine statues, so real, so commanding. When we nine are together, we become one, falling into lockstep, anxious, happy to be together once more. Now we were crying together, grateful we had made it to this moment, alive and celebrating on a spot where we might have been hanged.

“There are so many more steps to be taken.”

Going forward, I am grateful for this time of celebration but I don’t want it to obstruct all our perceptions of the fact that there is a lot of work still to be done. We have only survived and triumphed in round one of the bouts that have made and continue to remake America. There are so many more steps to be taken to achieve human equality. The first round of this battle was never about integration, in my opinion. It was always about ACCESS–access to opportunity, to resources, to freedom. The enemy was more visible, the battle lines drawn in plan sight. What I call the “new racism” is about SUCCESS–success in terms of cultural, social, and economic status.

– Melba Pattillo Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry

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