The bronze faces spoke eloquently of fear and courage, determination and apprehension. I found myself walking among them, touching their arms, nodding my head in affirmation of their and their parents’ willingness to confront the unjust status quo.
The statuary commemorating the Little Rock Nine, on the lawn of the state capitol of Arkansas, deeply moves me. When I was just learning to walk, these brave high school students were the first to de-segregate Central High School in Little Rock. The story’s details astounded me as I researched the goings-on of September, 1957.
- nine young teenagers trying to do what kids need to do: go to school
- a de-segregation order by the federal government
- a powerful governor who called in the National Guard to keep black students out of white high schools, in violation of the law
- a determined president who summoned the governor to Washington for an official chewing-out. Eisenhower then federalized the Arkansas National Guard so Gov Faubus could not misuse them again.
- an atmosphere of hatred and fear; mob mentality
- abuse of power: the governor closed all four Little Rock high schools the following year so de-segregation could not continue. (“The Lost Year” is what it is called; nobody went to a local high school that year. Unthinkable.)
When I see courage in action, I am changed. These nine families exemplified the quiet determination to do the right thing in the face of mistreatment, injustice, and the likelihood of no positive outcome for their children.
This was a difficult piece to write. The mindset and behaviors from that era are so foreign to me, and so dishonoring to fellow humans, that I hardly can believe it happened. I’m sobered to ponder the emotional devastation that those nine endured when they were prevented from entering, or were ushered from, Central High School by armed escorts.
Perhaps, at its root, this is a plea for zero tolerance of abuse, and generous tolerance of those who are different from us.