A debut illustrated memoir—written for younger generations—offers details of the brutality that the black students who desegregated an Arkansas high school faced.
Eckford was nervous and excited beginning her first day at the prestigious all-white Central High in Little Rock. She was one of the nine black students (the Little Rock Nine) chosen to desegregate the school in 1957. Her story details the horror of that day, laying bare the raw hatred spewed at blacks and the political calculations of Gov. Orval Faubus. He had announced on TV: “Blood will run through the streets if negroes attempt to attend Central High,” and then activated the National Guard to prevent the black students from entering the school. Lacking a telephone, Eckford’s family wasn’t alerted to the plan for the Nine to approach the school as a group, escorted by black and white ministers. Fifteen-year-old Eckford arrived alone. Blocked from going into the school, she returned to the bus stop through the hate-filled segregationists screaming racial epithets and yelling: “Lynch her, lynch her!” While the Nine eventually attended classes under the protection of the 101st Airborne Division ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to ensure their safety, the viciousness of the white students continued throughout the school year: “We routinely endured items being thrown at us and being burned by cigarettes.” The engrossing narrative includes a description of the Supreme Court ruling that prompted school integration (Brown v. the Board of Education) and the people who made it happen, along with period photographs and drawings. Eckford’s potent and timely story is intended for a young audience unfamiliar with the details of school desegregation as experienced by their grandparents. The prose is simple and to the point, written from the perspective of a young teen: Navigating “between the soldiers and the angry crowd,” she thought: “Why is this happening? Can’t anyone help?” “If I were your daughter…would you protect me then?” Eurydice Stanley and Grace Stanley provide strong closing essays advocating continued vigilance against contemporary injustices.
A powerful recollection of the horrors encountered—and the battles won—in the fight for integration, and an urgent call to oppose today’s social and political oppression.