Warriors Don’t Cry In the book Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals, the author describes what her reactions and feelings are to the racial hatred and discrimination she and eight other African-American teenagers received in Little Rock, Arkansas during the desegregation period in 1957. She tells the story of the nine students from the time she turned sixteen years old and began keeping a diary until her final days at Central High School in Little Rock. The story begins by Melba talking about the anger, hatred, and sadness that is brought up upon her first return to Central High for a reunion with her eight other classmates. As she walks through the halls and rooms of the old school, she recalls the horrible acts of violence that were committed by the white students against her and her friends. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown vs.
The Board of Education that schools needed to integrate and provide equal education for all people and it was unconstitutional for the state to deny certain citizens this opportunity. Although this decision was a landmark case and meant the schools could no longer deny admission to a child based solely on the color of their skin. By 1957, most schools had began to slowly integrate their students, but those in the deep south were still trying to fight the decision. One of the most widely known instances of this happening was at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It took the school district three years to work out an integration plan. The board members and faculty didn’t like the fact that they were going to have to teach a group of students that were looked down upon and seen as inferior to white students.
However, after much opposition, a plan was finally proposed. The plan called for the integration to happen in three phases. First, during the 1957-1958 school year, the senior high school would be integrated, then after completion at the senior high level, the junior high would be integrated, and the elementary levels would follow in due time. Seventeen students were chosen from hundreds of applicants to be the first black teenagers to begin the integration process. The town went into an uproar.
Many acts of violence were committed toward the African-Americans in the city. Racism and segregation seemed to be on the rise. Most black students decided to stay at Horace Mann, the black high school that was underfunded and didn’t boast a very high graduation rate, let alone much of a college acceptance percentage. Some out of fear and others just accepted the harsh and unfair circumstances. The state and town passed laws and ordinances as the school year drew near in order to keep the school from integrating. Even the state governor refused for the desegregation process to happen without resistance.
Some blacks also opposed the desegregation for fear of future repercussions. The nine brave students, however, refused to be stopped. On September 3, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown (Trickey), Carlotta Walls (LaNier), Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray (Karlmark), Thelma Mothershed-Wair, and Melba Patillo Beals set off for school. The governor of Arkansas, Orvel Faubus, had sent National Guardsmen to the school the previous day to surround the building and keep all African-Americans from entering its doors. He stated in an interview that the reason for the troops was he heard a rumor that white supremacists were going to riot and he was just protecting the students. He declared Central High off-limits to all people of color in order for their own protection.
The students never did make it into school that day. Before they even reached the property they were met with great resistance from racist citizens who spat upon them, mocked them, threw sharp objects at them, and even physically beat them. Melba describes the deep hurt she felt as for the first time in her life she saw the harsh reality of racism at its worst. The next day the students met with Daisy Bates, the head of the regional NAACP, and decided to all walk in together. The problem was, Ms. Bates had tried to call all of the students but one girl, Elizabeth Eckford, didn’t own a phone.
She never heard of the plan and attempted to walk into the school herself. A mob of people surrounded her and threatened to hang her all the while the Arkansas National Guard did nothing. She escaped without injury but Beals and the others realized how serious of a matter this had come to. The school began to get national attention and the students were labeled as the Little Rock Nine. They were nine brave, young African-American students from honest, hardworking, God-fearing families who were taking a stand for the oppression that their people had faced for the past couple of centuries in America.
Beals was an aspiring young woman who dreamt of receiving a formal education and one day becoming a prominent member of both the black and white communities. Their story came at a time during the height of the civil rights movements that were sweeping across the states. White people were beginning to realize that coexistence with other racial groups was possible and even beneficial to society at-large. Unfortunately, the people of Little Rock, Arkansas, had not been introduced to this way of life. Some out of fear, others out of ignorance, and still others out of hatred couldn’t stand the idea of blacks and whites living together peacefully.
Even others didn’t think the South was quite ready for the change. Even Governor Faubus himself said that the state would integrate when the time was right. The African-Americans had been experiencing segregation all of their lives. The blacks were forced to use separate restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, sidewalks, and other public places. Beals recalls one of her experiences with segregation in the city when she tells the story of when she was only five years old and saved up all of her money in order to buy a ticket on the merry-go-round at the park.
When she finally had enough, she boldly walked to the ticket-taker who promptly denied her admittance. He told her that the ride was full even though she pointed out empty seats to him. She fled the park quickly that day, but she never was able to escape the horrible memories of her childhood. She wrote in her diary at the age of sixteen: In 1957 while most teenage girls were listening to Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue, watching Elvis gyrate, and collecting cindine slips, I was escaping the hanging rope of a lynch mob, dodging sticks of dynamite, and washing away burning acid spray into my eyes. The state or local governments did nothing to try and stop this, in fact, they even passed a few laws that made things worse. Before the school year had even started in 1957, a member of the anti-integration group filed suit against the state because she was afraid for her children and the children of the other white parents because the black students were notorious for forming gangs and causing violence.
The court judge even backed the case and ruled in her favor. Luckily, with many efforts, the federal courts overturned this ruling and the students were allowed to continue with their integration efforts. Some city ordinances were passed that forced blacks to always go to the end of lines, wait for the white folks …