Fifty-seven years ago, federal troops were called in by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to escort nine black students into a newly desegregated Little Rock Central High School.
The group of students would from that day forward be known as the Little Rock Nine. Brown v. The Board of Education ordered schools to integrate and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to “preserve the peace” and block the students from entering.
On Sept. 24, 1957, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and then he federalized the entire Arkansas National Guard unit, ordering them to protect the students they were originally ordered to turn away.
Today, the day of segregation seems to be in the distant past. My generation has grown up in a time of full integration and knows nothing of no other way. But those students displayed courage, in particular Elizabeth Eckford.
During the first day of class, Eckford wasn’t aware of the other eight students’ idea to go into the school together. She arrived late and faced a mob, including the National Guard in her way. She was berated with death threats and forced out.
The historic picture of Eckford walking away from the mob speaks volumes. A mob of angry southerners, afraid of progressive ideals were ironically not afraid to threaten the life of a 15-year old girl. In the photo, you see Eckford’s defiance. It was recorded that she broke down in tears soon after; however, the courage to not only not retaliate in any way, but return to the same school a few weeks later, is nothing short of spectacular.
I owe everything I have had the opportunity to accomplish academically to Eckford and the other eight members of the Little Rock Nine for what they did that month in 1957.
With discussions of racial prejudice becoming prevalent again with the events in Ferguson, with the stories of Eric Garner, John Crawford III and Trayvon Martin, I wanted to put a spotlight on this idea: Even through immeasurably trying times, if someone takes action, the right people will notice and the voiceless will be heard.