This is an abridged (shortened) version of the awesome post from A Mighty Girl's Facebook page. A Mighty Girl is a website that promotes strong girl characters in books, movies, and toys. They have a great Facebook page that shares amazing young women throughout history. Here's what they shared today:
On this day in 1957, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford encountered an angry mob when she attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Eckford was one of nine teenagers, known as the Little Rock Nine, who became the first African American students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in its famous Brown v. Board of Education decision.
While the nine students had planned to enter the school together, the meeting place was changed the night before and Eckford, whose family did not have a telephone, did not learn about the change of plans. As a result, she attempted to enter the school alone through a mob of 400 angry segregationists and a blockage by the Arkansas National Guard, which the pro-segregationist governor, Orval Faubus, had ordered to block the students in violation of the Supreme Court decision.
Due to the line of soldiers blockading the school and threats from the crowd, Eckford was forced to flee to a bus stop. As she sat at the bus stop crying, New York Times reporter Benjamin Fine consoled the scared girl, telling her "don't let them see you cry." Civil rights activist Grace Lorch, who had learned that Eckford had arrived separately from the other students, then arrived to escort her home.
In response to Eckford and the other students being blocked from the school, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to protect the students. To enforce desegregation, Eisenhower sent the US Army's 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalized the entire Arkansas National Guard to remove control from the governor. The Little Rock Nine were able to start school by the end of September. Although soldiers were deployed at the school for the entire year, many of the students experienced physical and verbal abuse, including Eckford who at one point was pushed down the stairs.
The governor continued to fight integration and, the following year -- in what came to be known as the "Lost Year" -- ordered Little Rock's four high schools closed rather than allow it to continue
The famous photograph pictured here shows Elizabeth Eckford on September 4, 1957 as she walked alone through a mob to Central High. Taken by Will Counts, it was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. The young woman shouting in the photo, Hazel Massery, apologized to Eckford and the two made amends at a 40th anniversary celebration of the school's integration.
There are lots of amazing books written about this sad period in our country's history. However, most recently I read the novel The Lions of Little Rock. This is an amazing story of two girls who form a forbidden friendship, set during the "lost years" mentioned in the article above. The kids in Massachusetts voted and this book won the Massachusetts Children's Book Award last year, and it deserves every vote it got! I have a copy in my room for anyone who wants to borrow this powerful book.