Appendix A.1 Nine From Little Rock1
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JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): Where do you begin? Where do you look? Like an ancient battlefield, the ground is silent, though people still move in familiar places. Now, on this field, Negro and white run together, remembering not how it was in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.
Perhaps it is best for those today to look where they are going and not where they have been. But when you’re a dark man in a country where the Negro is demanding more and more an equal chance, you have the right to look back to discover if you are really moving forward, or if the world is just moving beneath your feet.
I have a special reason for looking back. My name is Jefferson Thomas. And I’m one of the nine from Little Rock.
There is nothing strange in seeing nine American children walking to school on a September morning. But this was a special morning in a special part of America, a place where Negro children had never gone to school with whites before.
Hatred is easier to organize than understanding. And there was a minority in our state who found it to their advantage to bring hate to Little Rock in 1957. While we watched, the white children went to school, and we stood outside.
We had been taught in school that we were a nation under law. And the law said segregation was wrong. Now, we waited to see if our laws had meaning or were just words in a book or idle talk in a classroom.
SERGEANT: Company halt.
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): On September 27, 1957, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 men of the United States Army to carry out the law. The Supreme Court of the United States had said the entire strength of a nation may be used to enforce in any part of the land the security of all rights entrusted by the Constitution. And that included my rights and the rights of eight other Negro Americans who wanted to go to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
We were Terrence Roberts, Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Carlotta Walls, Melba Pattillo, Minnijean Brown, and Gloria Ray. And we were going to school again.
SERGEANT: Forward ho! 1, 2.
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): Obviously, in this town of 100,000, there were many who didn’t like what was happening. But as we looked at the soldiers, we knew there must be millions of others who thought we represented something important.
When the doors closed behind us that day, it was both an end and a beginning. From that moment on, we would be watched, not only by those who looked at us as strangers, but by those who wondered if we would live up to our new opportunity. I remember standing there, wondering how history would judge us.
It’s been seven years since that first day. What has happened? Where have we gone? What have we done?
MINNIJEAN BROWN (VOICEOVER): I was the oldest of the nine and perhaps the least serious. I came here to Southern Illinois University after graduation. At first, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but I was too outgoing for that. Now I know I want to work in a newspaper, to be a journalist, and to write.
More than anything else in the world, I want to write. This year, I took a job in the university newspaper. I work as a reporter 20 hours a week after classes. There’s no substitute for writing under pressure, to have to get the story out and to make it good.
I remember the reporters who came from all over the world to cover the story of Little Rock. To be able to take a story like that and to put it into words is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do. Someday, I’m going to write a book about what happened in Little Rock. But first, I’ve got to learn more about writing and about the world. And you can do that best in school.
Teachers like Professor Simon have helped me to grow up. He’s a man who makes you want to go to school forever. But I’m going to work after I graduate. I’ve applied to two newspapers, and one has already offered me a job.
I’m going to miss this university. The friendships I have made here are long and deep. The things I have learned here have helped me to come to terms with myself. For the first time in my life, I have begun to understand why some Americans act the way they do. I know now, some Americans have a fear of the Negro, a fear borne of a way of life that has been dead in this country since the end of slavery. That’s what the mob in Little Rock was afraid of—that the Negro, who had done so much with no chance, might do so much more with an equal one.
[SCHOOL BELL RINGING]
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): It’s been four years since I stood in this hallway and watched the faces moving from class to class. None of this would seem strange to us now, for we all went on to colleges where there were more whites than Negroes, except Elizabeth. She went to Central State College in Ohio.
ELIZABETH ECKFORD (VOICEOVER): Central State was founded as an all-Negro college about 100 years ago. Today, like most American schools, it is a mixture of Negro and white. When I entered high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and then a teacher.
And now, like most students, I haven’t quite decided what I want to be. The world is a big place. And when I go out into it, I want to be sure I go in the right direction.
If it hadn’t been for that morning in September 1957, I could have gone into law or education and not thought much about it. I was frightened that morning. But I learned a great deal about people—not only about the people who were there, but about the people who were not there, like the politician who encouraged the mob, like the thousands who suffered with me and wrote to me to tell me so.
While I waited, I heard brave voices speak out against intolerance. And I saw grown men turn their heads in shame from a camera.
STUDENTS: (SINGING) And as we sail the future’s sea, through the years we’ll sing of thee. Oh college mine, we’ll sing of thee. Truth and right our song shall be. Our alma mater guides us, and it’s great for God, for Central, for State!
STUDENTS: (SINGING) All the alphas like to shoo-wop, shoo-waddy-waddy-whop. All the alphas like to shoo-wop, shoo-waddy-waddy-wop. All the alphas like to—
ELIZABETH ECKFORD (VOICEOVER): Central State is a Negro college that opened its doors to whites only 17 years ago. Today, 20% of the student body and faculty are white. And there are still Negroes who are against integration. The Negro is like most Americans, possessing no monopoly on tolerance and hoping that the few, the uninformed, will not be confused with the rest us.
STUDENTS: (SINGING) —shoo-wop, shoo-waddy-waddy-wop.
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): Four years ago, a Negro walked this hall in fear. Some of the hate outside had come inside. And there were a few who tried to impose their will on the many.
When we went up a stairway, we hung on to the railing.
MAN: Can I help you?
JEFFERSON THOMAS: Uh, I’m looking for Miss Poindexter’s room.
MAN: Mm-hm. She’s in room 214.
JEFFERSON THOMAS: Thank you very much.
MAN: Any time.
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): Thelma used to say the problems we had getting into this school were worth it just to be able to take courses from some of the teachers. It’s not surprising so many students like Thelma wanted to go into teaching.
THELMA MOTHERSHED (VOICEOVER): I graduate this year from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Going to college is a tradition in my family. That’s why I applied for Central. I wanted a good high school education. I wanted the best training I could get before I entered college.
Aspirations are very personal things. But I think I can state mine simply. I love to teach, and I love children. Children are happy, moody, difficult, and wonderful. They accept me for what I am.
After I finish college, I want to apply for a job teaching in Little Rock, maybe someday at Central High. I wonder what it’ll be like.
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): Thelma, Carlotta, and I had Miss Dunn. None of us had seen a school with so much equipment before. I think it was the equipment that first gave Ernie the impression he wanted to be an engineer. But I’m glad he changed his mind.
GROUP: (SINGING) We are soldiers in the army, in the army. We have to fight. We have to fight, although we have to die.
ERNEST GREEN (VOICEOVER): After I leave Michigan State University, I’m going to work in the field of civil rights as a leader and an organizer. Even in the northern states, you’ll find pockets of discrimination, like you do all over the world. But there’s a tide rising against it. And I want to be part of it.
GROUP: (SINGING) —in the army. We got to fight. We got to fight, although we have to die. We got to hold, we got to hold up the freedom banner.
We got to hold it up, yeah. Whoa. We got to hold it up, yeah. Whoa. We got to hold it up, yeah. Whoa. We got to hold it up, yeah. We got to hold—
ERNEST GREEN (VOICEOVER): I came to Michigan State to study engineering. Three years ago, I changed my mind. I decided I would rather work with people than with machines.
Under Professor David Gottlieb, I received my bachelor’s degree in sociology. Next week, I will receive my master’s. I’m convinced that a white American can never fully understand what motivates the Negro’s desire for equality. But the white American is becoming more concerned, especially my generation. And that makes tomorrow worth dreaming about.
The American Negro must protest. And he must also build understanding by searching for the truth. The tools for truth and science are now becoming tools for truth and human relations. For the past two years, I have been compiling data on the aspirations of Negro and white children in a segregated community. Today, we are capable of getting answers that have real meaning, that carry the power of fact against those who would exploit rumor and prejudice.
My research is just one part in a quiet revolution that’s taking place in America. It’s not alone a revolution in technology, but a revolution in thinking, a revolution that says man, no matter how humble his birth, what color his skin, must be permitted to go as far as his mind and his aspirations will take him.
JEFFERSON THOMAS (VOICEOVER): Ernie was the first of us to graduate from Central. Carlotta and I were the last. We were the class of 1960.
Carlotta goes to Denver University in Colorado. She’s a good student, and she likes the high mountains out there. Gloria Ray is a senior at the Illinois Institute of Technology. This year, she receives her degree in chemistry.
Terrence Roberts is studying for his degree in business administration at the City College of Los Angeles. Melba Pattillo, as we guessed, married early. She wasn’t in college over a year before she became a housewife.
And me—this spring, I take an exam to become a certified public accountant. That means I’m supposed to be qualified to keep track of profits and losses. I’m not sure I know enough yet to say what all this adds up to. I haven’t counted all the victories since that first day we went to school here. But I know there’s been at least nine.
In Little Rock, there’s a slow bridge taking shape over that chasm of intolerance and ignorance. It’s a bridge that’s going to be built by us and by our children. Before it’s finished, we’re going to have our problems. But if Little Rock taught nothing more, it taught all Americans that problems can make us better, much better.
- Source: National Archives, RG 306, Moving Images Relating to U.S. Domestic and International Activities, 1982–1998, Nine From Little Rock, 1964. Produced for the United States Information Agency. Written and directed by Charles E. Guggenheim. Narrated by Jefferson Thomas.↩