domingo, 7 de setembro de 2014

"A Mighty Girl"

On this day in 1957, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford encountered an angry mob when she attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Eckford was one of nine teenagers, known as the Little Rock Nine, who became the first African American students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in its famous Brown v. Board of Education decision.

While the nine students had planned to enter the school together, the meeting place was changed the night before and Eckford, whose family did not have a telephone, did not learn about the change of plans. As a result, she attempted to enter the school alone through a mob of 400 angry segregationists and a blockage by the Arkansas National Guard, which the pro-segregationist governor, Orval Faubus, had ordered to block the students in violation of the Supreme Court decision.

Due to the line of soldiers blockading the school and threats from the crowd, Eckford was forced to flee to a bus stop. As she sat at the bus stop crying, New York Times reporter Benjamin Fine consoled the scared girl, telling her "don't let them see you cry." Civil rights activist Grace Lorch, who had learned that Eckford had arrived separately from the other students, then arrived to escort her home.

In response to Eckford and the other students being blocked from the school, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to protect the students. To enforce desegregation, Eisenhower sent the US Army's 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalized the entire Arkansas National Guard to remove control from the governor. The Little Rock Nine were able to start school by the end of September. Although soldiers were deployed at the school for the entire year, many of the students experienced physical and verbal abuse, including Eckford who at one point was pushed down the stairs.

The governor continued to fight integration and, the following year -- in what came to be known as the "Lost Year" -- ordered Little Rock's four high schools closed rather than allow it to continue. As a result, Eckford did not graduate from Central High but took correspondence courses to complete her degree. Eckford and the rest of the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP and she later received a BA in history at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.

The famous photograph pictured here shows Elizabeth Eckford on September 4, 1957 as she walked alone through a mob to Central High. Taken by Will Counts, it was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. The young woman shouting in the photo, Hazel Massery, apologized to Eckford and the two made amends at a 40th anniversary celebration of the school's integration.

The story of Eckford and Massery is also told in the fascinating book for adult readers "Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock" (

For an excellent autobiography by another member of the Little Rock Nine, Melba Pattillo Beals, for ages 12 and up, we highly recommend “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” at
For a compelling fictional account of the tumultuous school integration of 1950s Little Rock for readers 10 to 13, check out "Lions of Little Rock" at

Daisy Bates, the organizer of the Little Rock Nine group, has also written a memoir "The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir" for ages 13 and up at

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison has also written an excellent account of the movement for desegregation. Filled with stirring stories and archival photographs, "Remember: The Journey to School Integration" is highly recommended for ages 8 to 14 at

For several books and a film about Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in the US South, visit

And, for many stories about the role of girls and women in the Civil Rights Movement, visit our special feature on the "Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History" at
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