Little Rock integration, 45 years later nothing has changed

By Noble Johns

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (BNW) -
- As we celebrate another struggle for social justice in the South, Blacks who still live in the South know that nothing has really changed in 50-years. Black Americans in the South still have to fight for rights that are granted to everybody else as a matter of their birth right. Even the illegal immigrants are treated better than most Blacks.

It can be said without equivocation that half the whites in the South hate Blacks with a relentless passion, and the other half don't like us at all. As a result, most Blacks in the South are still trying to figure out what we have done to white people to engender this kind of hatred from them? In other words, what is our crime?

Forty-five years after soldiers led her past a screaming mob outside Central High School, Minnijean Brown-Trickey made a tranquil return to the campus that became a civil rights battleground. And in the eyes of many Blacks, not much has changed!

Now age 61, she said she can return to this place with a sense of peace -- without constantly hearing the sounds and replaying the images in her head of what happened on this spot when she was 16.

"My heart is stilled. Now it only comes upon me in moments of weakness," she said Wednesday.

In 1957, Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to keep Brown-Trickey and eight other black students from enrolling at Central.

A showdown ensued -- President Eisenhower responded by sending in 1,000 members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division to escort the students into the school on September 25. The black teen-agers were regularly jeered, threatened and spat upon in school hallways.

Brown-Trickey said the day set a tone of defiance for her and the other black students. The hatred from some students came in part from her refusal to cower in the hallways, she said.

"There is nothing special about the Little Rock Nine. It was something that shouldn't have happened the way that it happened," she said.

Lessons learned

She shared her story with about 2,000 Central students during an event commemorating the anniversary Wednesday. In a message about empowerment, she said social lessons learned in the school cafeteria often determine a child's future world view.

Troops escort nine black students into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.

She also said the lessons she learned as a teen-ager put her on a lifelong path of trying to understand conflict. It was as a peacemaker that she recently traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a mural in the war-ravaged town depicts members of the Little Rock Nine.

She said children in Northern Ireland knew more about the history of the Little Rock desegregation crisis than many children she has spoken with in Arkansas. Children in that country can relate to the division and hatred that defined the segregated South, she said.

The city of Little Rock is hosting a weeklong summit on race as part of the 45th anniversary of the integration fight.

Mayor Jim Dailey said city leaders believed the summit was a way to recognize history while doing something positive for race relations.

Standing in front of Central High School, Brown-Trickey said she often thinks about the people who were in power 45 years ago.

"In whose interest was it for the things that happened on these streets back then to have happened?" she asked. "It was about power and the way that some people had power over others."

Perhaps the only thing that has changed in the South lately, is that whites won't call you nigger in public.

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