Elizabeth Eckford (1941- ) is the most famous of the Little Rock Nine, the first nine black students to go to Little Rock Central High School in the American state of Arkansas. She is not a household name but the picture taken by Will Counts of her going to school that first day, on September 4th 1957, with whites shouting at her, is world famous.
Before she left the house that morning her family read the 27th Psalm together:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear:
Though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.
She took the city bus and walked up to the school. The governor had called in soldiers, who ringed the school. They let the white students pass, but when she approached they crossed their guns. Three times she tried to pass. By then 250 whites had gathered, shouting at her:
She walked to the bus stop to go home. She wanted to run but was afraid she would fall. An angry girl behind her was shouting:
Go home, nigger! Go back to Africa!
Just then Counts took his picture.
The governor was breaking the law but the president would not stand up to him. At last after three weeks the president sent in the 101st Airborne Division. Eckford and the others could now go to school – nine blacks in a sea of 2,000 whites.
Her history teacher refused to touch her. She taught that slavery had civilized blacks. One boy sat behind her and kept saying “nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger” every day. Whites threw things at her: spitballs, paper clips, eggs, tomatoes, snowballs with rocks inside, broken glass. They pushed her, they knocked her down, they put broken glass in the shower. Even the few whites who were friendly did not want to be seen with her.
No more than 10% of whites caused trouble, but the rest would not stand up to them, not even the teachers and principals.
Eckford is extremely brave and forgiving but depression runs in her family. She has never got over the experience and has tried to kill herself several times. She lives in the same house – she says to leave the state would be cowardly.
Central High today is more than half black, but blacks and whites sit in different classrooms and sit at opposite ends of the cafeteria. It is two schools under one roof, separate and unequal.
- Vanity Fair: Through a Lens Darkly – by David Margolick. This post is based on his account, which is 24 times longer and goes into way more.
- Jim Crow
- The Death Of Emmett Till – just two years before!
- Ota Benga
- whites-only proms
- going to a white school: