Little Rock Nine and Ruby Bridges
This black and white picture was taken in 1974, Elizabeth Eckford was part of the little rock nine, the first black student to attend an all-white high school in Arkansas. Elizabeth Eckford was 15 years old when this moment was captured. The curly-haired black female had sunglasses over her eyes and wore a white, holding her school books. She’s being followed by an angry crowd of white people one that is mid-scream as the others just stare at her with anger. The Associated Press is behind both of these iconic images. Equal rights have been under attack since the early start of this country and this image vividly shows just that.
It is common for students of different races to attend the same school to earn the same equal education now in the united states. But in 1957, it was a different story black students were separated from white students. They did not have the same equal rights under the “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws. Even after the thirteenth amendment ( the abolishment of slavery) was ratified white people still wanted to feel superior to black people and this is where the Jim Crow laws came to existence. The Jim Crow laws were created after the civil war, they ensured that black people felt inferior and unwelcomed in any public places like parks, schools, etc. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled the Jim Crow laws unconstitutional but the south refused to integrate the races and kept segregating.
The southern white people did not settle for the Jim Crow laws to make others feel inferior, some people went to the extremes as far as violence and the Klu Klux Klan. The Klu Klux Klan, or the KKK, was and still is an anti-black terrorist group that formed in 1865 for the sole purpose to make not just black people but everyone race other than white feel inferior and is still in existence to this day. The KKK terrorized black communities, vandalizing public schools, in some cases even tortured people before they were killed, and lynched black people, and many more incidents of terrorism.
Many southern states refused to segregate and in an effort to start to integrate the Little Rock School board decided its schools would allow black students. Nine students to be exact and became historically known as “ The Little Rock Nine”. Their names were Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Melba Pattillo Beals, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown-Trickey, and Thelma Mothershed-Wair. This school board was making history in being the first to integrate its schools but they white people were disgruntled. On the first day of school, the angry white people stormed to the school to try and stop the new black students from entering. The Governor of Arkansas had called in the national guard to help stop the nine black students from entering the school, in which they succeeded. The nine students did not enter classes that day. President Eisenhower had to intervene and have the 101st Airborne escort the student into the school. The 101st airborne is a specialized army force specialized in air assault operations, but on September 25, 1957, they were escorts making history in integrating the Little Rock Central High School students and helping enforce the fourteenth amendment in the United States Constitution, which states that no American will be deprived of the equal protection of the laws.
Although the nine students were able to enter the school the students the torment did not stop at the door. Eckford reports getting things thrown at her. The nine students finished the school year but the Little Rock schools shut down the next year. Elizabeth Eckford got her GED and still lives in Little Rock. She worked as a journalist for the U.S. Army, probation officer, history teacher, unemployment interviewer, and social worker. Ernest Green was the first black student to graduate from Central High School in1958. He graduated from Michigan State University, served as Assistant Secretary of Labor under Jimmy Carter, and was President Clinton’s chairman of the African Development Foundation. Gloria Ray Karlmark graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1965, she worked as a computer science writer, an executive with a company, and publisher for a computer magazine. Terrence Roberts completed high school in Los Angeles after going to Little Rock and attended Southern Illinois University and was a professor in Los Angeles. Carlotta Walls Lanier graduated from Central in 1959. She attended Michigan State University and works as a real estate broker. Melba Pattillo Beals graduated from high school in Santa Rosa, California, attended San Francisco State University, and is an author and former journalist. Jefferson Thomas graduated from Central High in 1960, he worked as an accountant with the U.S. Department of Defense and passed away in September 2010. Minnijean Brown-Trickey was expelled from Central High in February 1958, after several incidents, including her dumping a bowl of chili on a white student in the school cafeteria. She attended Laurentian University in Ontario, is an activist for minority rights and is a social worker, and lives in Little Rock. Thelma Mothershed-Wair graduated from central, attended Southern Illinois University and was an educator, and lives in Little Rock.
The south still tried to stop integration but it did not stop at Little Rock Central High School. Ruby Bridges who was born on September 8, 1954, was the first student to integrate an elementary school at the age of six years. And just like the Little Rock Nine were escorted into the school she was escorted by four federal marshals to the school every day of her first year at William Frantz Elementary School on November 14, 1960. Ruby graduated from a desegregated high school, became a travel agent, married, and had four sons. Ruby later wrote two books and received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award. Ruby built a foundation in 1999 to promote tolerance and change through education. It was not easy what these students and their parents had to go through, especially at such a young age but someone had to do it. Their life rewarded them for being such brave individuals and allowing them and future students to obtain an equal education.
- History.com Editors. “Jim Crow Laws.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 28 Feb. 2018, www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws.
- Blakemore, Erin. “The Story Behind the Famous Little Rock Nine ‘Scream Image’.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 1 Sept. 2017 https://www.history.com/news/the-story-behind-the-famous-little-rock-nine-scream-image.
- Whack, Errin Haines. “Decades after ‘Little Rock Nine,’ School Segregation Lingers.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 25 Sept. 2017, https://apnews.com/08fbb274af654a62a2297ae839b43d3d.
- “Little Rock Nine: More About The Nine.” Research Guides, https://libguides.marquette.edu/c.php?g=36714&p=233257.
- Michals, Debra. “Ruby Bridges.” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ruby-bridges.
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