If you’re an Arkansan, chances are you recognize the picture. It’s one that makes most of us cringe and close our eyes in embarrassment. Not our finest moment in Arkansas history, and one we wish never happened.
In 1954 the Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in schools was unconstitutional under the fourteenth amendment. School boards around the country were tasked with integrating their white and black schools. There was massive resistance throughout the South. School boards dragged their feet in implementing the law, but the strongest defiance came from my beloved home state of Arkansas.
Governor Orval Faubus challenged the Supreme Court’s decision when nine black students were selected to be the first ones to integrate into Little Rock’s Central High School. Segregationist groups like the Capital Citizens Council fought tooth and nail, and the Mothers League of Central High School held a meeting at the school one early September morning to sing Dixie, fly the Confederate flag, and speak out against the atrocities of sending their white children to school with blacks. Their meeting was advertised as a “Sunrise Service,” the same words we use at Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our risen Savior.
The Mothers League encouraged the crowds to show up and resist. And mobs of angry white people descended on Central High. The nine brave students faced screaming protestors who kicked, yelled in their faces, spat on them, and threatened their families. The Governor ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block their entry into the school.
Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine, recalls being alone and surrounded by an angry white mob after being turned away.
I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the mob–someone who maybe would help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.
And here’s the part of the story that has always haunted me:
In a town where everybody knows everybody, I don’t know anybody who stood by the Little Rock Nine.
Read the rest over at She Loves Magazine. I try to reconcile the ugly bits of my past and how it speaks to the present at a time when we still need healing and unity.