Young Heroes

The Little Rock Nine

by Natasha from New Haven

"Nine Courageous African Americans
to Attend a Public High School"
Little Rock High School
Little Rock High School

It all started with The Little Rock Nine. In 1957 they were not allowed to attend Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Little Rock Nine refused to give up on attending Central High School.

The Little Rock Nine were rejected from Central High because of their race. It all happened around the time of the school desegregation crisis, which was a major event during the American Civil Rights Movement.

Members of the 101st US-Airborne Division escort the students
Members of the 101st US-Airborne Division escort the students

Earlier in 1957, the Little Rock School Board had voted to integrate their school system. Arkansas was considered a fairly progressive Southern state, so they did not expect much resistance. Like many schools in Arkansas, Little Rock Central High School was segregated. That means that only white students were allowed to attend. Later on the Supreme Court ruled that segregation, or the legal separation of blacks and whites in public facilities, was illegal.

As The Little Rock Nine drove toward their school, they already knew they had angry white protesters waiting for them. A few weeks before, the nine African Americans had walked past the angry crowd to the high school's entrance. That same morning the Arkansas National Guardsmen had turned the nine students away and, along with the angry crowd and police, they had pelted the African Americans' cars with stones, assaulted them and threatened their lives. As much as they were scared, the nine African Americans didn't give up. These nine students never knew that they had just stirred up a chapter of history that would become an important part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Elizabeth Eckford braves a jeering crowd
Elizabeth Eckford braves a jeering crowd

However, a crisis erupted when the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, called the National Guard on September 4 to prevent The Little Rock Nine from attending high school. Faubus's decision was most likely politically, rather than racially, motivated. The following year Faubus closed all the high schools, forcing African American students to take correspondence courses or to go to out-of-state schools. The school board reopened the school in 1959. Despite more violence, The Little Rock Nine were still eager to attend Central High School. They arrived at school on a September morning and were let through the side door. Once the angry protesters found out they were let inside the building, the crowd went crazy and once again these nine students had to leave. Only four out of the nine students returned, after one of the students' homes was bombed, and this time the four students were protected by the local police.

Nine Courageous Students
Nine Courageous Students

The Little Rock Nine included these courageous students: Ernest Green who was the first black student to graduate from Central High School (class of 1958); Carlotta Walls Lanier who graduated from Central in 1959; Minnijean Brown Trickey who was expelled from Central High in February 1958 after several incidents; Jefferson Thomas who graduated from Central in 1960; Elizabeth Eckford who is the only one of the nine still living in Little Rock; and Dr. Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed-Wair and Melba Pattillo Beals. These last four students did not graduate from Central. They went to another high school and on to college to pursue their careers.

Little Rock Nine Memorial.  A testament to their courage
Little Rock Nine Memorial. A testament to their courage

In their struggle to attend school, The Little Rock Nine faced verbal and physical assaults from white students, as well as death threats against themselves, their families and the black community. The nine determined students never gave up and remained focused on their education. The following May, Ernest Green became the first African American student ever to graduate Central High School. Ernest helped other African Americans to graduate and to attend school. Now the doors were open for African American students to pursue their education.

These particular nine African Americans are my heroes because of their courage. They stood up for themselves, never gave up and did not stop until they got what they wanted. Nowadays, high school students will just give up too easily. They would never fight for their rights like The Little Rock Nine.

Page created on 5/16/2015 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/6/2017 8:06:31 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Nine highly accomplished individuals - From the Little Rock Nine Foundation - Fifty years later
National Historic Site: Little Rock Central High School - National Park Service

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