Monday, March 29, 2010

Learning from Little Rock

I recently completed some in-depth research about the Little Rock Nine, the small group of black students who first integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Their first days of school made national headlines when the governor sent in the National Guard to block them from getting to class. It took weeks to resolve the situation in the federal courts, and even then, the President of the United States had to send in military support so that the community would stop their violent protests and allow the black teens to walk the halls of the white high school. It’s an amazing story.

I’m pretty much in awe of these nine folks, who were just young teenagers at the time, but who have grown into strong and amazing civil rights advocates. The backlash they faced every day in 1957-58 was extraordinary, and yet they faced it with courage. I can’t even imagine having to deal with the kind of overt attacks they faced—being spit on and beaten up and scalded and threatened with bombs. Actually, I feel lucky that I can’t imagine it, and that I never had to live it.

Black history month is over, and maybe this post would have been more appropriate a few weeks ago, but in my own life, thinking about such events is not specific to one month of the year. I spend a lot of time delving into history, both for my work and because it interests me. I often consider what it would have been like to live in another place and time, not because I want to go back, but because I want to understand what went on, and how we got to where we are today.

The Little Rock Nine’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It makes me grateful that I don’t live in other times, and grateful for those who sacrificed so that I wouldn’t. The world isn’t perfect today. Some would say it’s not even a better place, overall. But in certain ways, big and small, there has been progress, and it’s nice to celebrate that from time to time.

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