"When asked what the white students thought of her, [Minnijean] gave an
interesting and thoughtful reply: 'They are anxious to find out what we are like.
They are torn between their parents and their own minds. They just don't
know what to do.'"
"On Thursday, October 3, a group of white students -- organized by the
Mothers League -- staged a walkout to protest the presence of the black students
in their school. Although approximately 150 left, about half circled back and
reentered the school when they realized that fewer students walked out than
expected. The rest crossed Park Street to a vacant lot at the corner of 16th
"There they hung a straw-filled dummy of a black student from a big oak
tree...They danced around it, kicking it, punching it, stabbing it, and setting
it on fire. As one boy stabbed the effigy with a penknife, a photographer at
the scene asked another boy standing nearby what he was thinking. 'Oh, if
that were only a real one!' he said.
"The boy who said it, Jim Eison, grew up to be a historian for two Little
Rock museums. Forty years later, at a time when there were many public
apologies for the events at Central, he offered an unusual but honest perspective:
'I was a product of my day and time, and I was acting from my early
upbringing...The sentiment was true.'"
REMEMBER LITTLE ROCK is a powerful story largely told through the voices of
the black and white students who were at the center of the integration of
Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. It is filled with photos of the
characters and incidents that were, for several months, the epicenter of the U.S.
Civil Rights Movement. Some photos are iconic images while many others I
had never before seen.
As evidenced by the testimony of these students, there is much to be learned
here about thinking for oneself and coming to understand the need to develop
one's own moral compass.
In researching for the book, Paul Robert Walker learned that, "Day after
day, the Nine faced insults, threats, and physical violence. They endured
punching, shoving, and kicking. They had spitballs, rubber bands, and paper clips
shot at them, their heels stepped on by white students walking behind them,
ink sprayed on their clothes, knives flashed in their faces, and their heads
and clothing shoved into toilets. Glue and tacks and glass were placed on
their seats, and their gym showers were turned to scalding hot. Their lockers
were broken into and their books were stolen or destroyed so often that many
of them stopped carrying books to school. These were everyday events. Some
days were worse than others."
And yet, the classroom could become a sanctuary from the ignorance and
violence. Ernest Green, the one high school senior in the group of nine recalled,
'...Of all the things that have happened at Central, the most significant
was the friendly attitude that students showed toward me the day of the rioting.
"'The type of thing that was going on outside, people beaten, cursed, the
mob hysterics and all of this going on outside...we inside the school didn't
realize the problems that were occurring and continually students were
befriending us. I remember one case in particular in my physics class. I was three
weeks behind in my assignments [by time the legal wrangling finally permitted
he and the other eight to attend Central High], and a couple of fellows
offered to give me notes and to help me catch up the work that I had missed. I
was amazed at this kind of attitude being shown toward the Negroes.'"
Reading the recollections of the participants, it is clear that lives are
forever changed through one's being a witness to or participant in social
change. REMEMBER LITTLE ROCK illustrates how it was that teenagers in the midst
of creating and recreating their own personal identities stood at the
epicenter of this pivotal event in 20th century American history. It is a book that
makes it so easy for today's readers to imagine being there, and to take
what they learn from those who were involved in the drama of Little Rock and
transfer that knowledge to the 21st century social issues that their own
"'I felt very special at that moment,' remembered Terrence Roberts. 'I was
aware that something momentous was taking place that morning although years
would pass before I would truly grasp the overall significance of what had
happened. This was the first time since Reconstruction that federal troops had
been ordered into the South to protect the rights of African Americans. On
that morning, however, my primary thought was that maybe now I would not be
killed for simply trying to go to school.'"
I love this sort of informational book! Sixty-four compelling pages -- half
of them photographs -- and readers can so easily cruise right through it and
get so much out of it. Some readers will undoubtedly be interested in going
on to read Melba Pattillo Beals' WARRIORS DON'T CRY.
Here in California, where American history is studied in the fifth, eighth,
and eleventh grades, students of all three ages will be engaged and
enlightened by this outstanding, well-researched book about a group of nine teens who,
in their day, changed the world.