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Little Rock Nine Reunite At Central High To Pose For Photo

The Little Rock Nine pose for photographer Platon in front of Central High School in 2009.
Michael Hibblen
The Little Rock Nine pose for photographer Platon in front of Central High School in 2009.

The nine African-Americans who desegregated Central High School in 1957 are being featured in this week's issue of the New Yorker which looks at civil rights icons.

Standing in front of the school in 2009, the Little Rock Nine posed for the renowned photographer known as Platon. He has taken portraits of presidents and world leaders and was brought to the city by the magazine for this assignment.

The nine are now in their late 60s.  Only three live in Arkansas today, with the others spread out around the world.

Minnijean Brown Trickey has moved back to Little Rock and says when they get together they're shifted back to the 1950s.

"We're doing exactly what we did when we went to Central," Trickey said. "We're kidding around, being silly, as if we're still teenagers.  And that was our mode of survival and it probably... we're going to trigger ourselves back to that space whenever we get back together."

It's rare that all nine are able to reunite.  The New Yorker orchestrated this gathering for its photo shoot.

"It is wonderful for all nine of us to be together," said Carlotta Walls Lanier, who was the the youngest of the students and today lives in Denver.

"We don't get together all that often and unfortunately some could not be here for the anniversary in September. So it's the first time in about a year-and-a-half," Lanier said.

More than half a century has passed since the world's attention was focused on Little Rock as Gov. Orval Faubus brought out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the desegregation of Central, with President Dwight Eisenhower intervening, sending the Army to ensure the nine could attend classes.

Little Rock Nine
U.S. Army
National Park Service
The 101st Airborne Unit escorts the Little Rock Nine into Central High School in 1957.

Minnijean Brown Trickey says they're still trying to make sense of what happened.

"We're still interrogating it for ourselves to get an understanding and hoping to help other people understand it better.  So it's good to have this sort of senior era in which we're certainly much wiser than we were when we were 14, 15 and 16.  So it's a good feeling and maybe we need us more than ever," Trickey said.

Thelma Mothershed-Wair moved back to Little Rock a few years ago and said she was happy to see the others.

"Two years ago in 2007 we got together, so its been two years since I've seen all my cohorts," said Mothershed-Wair.  "It's been a pleasure to see them.  They're good people.  We're best friends, all nine of us.  Back then we had to take care of each other."

Ernest Green was the first of the Black students to graduate from Central and today lives in Washington, DC.  He says it's always a joy when he can meet up with the other members of the Little Rock Nine.

"I enjoy coming back to Little Rock.  I probably get back here three or four times a year.  But it's special obviously for people to look to see all nine of us are all still here.  We've gone off and many of us are now grandparents, raised families, had careers, expanded on it," Green said.  "I feel the experience at Central High School was an important part of building our lives."

The Little Rock Nine pose for a photo in front of Central High School in 2009.
Michael Hibblen
The Little Rock Nine pose for a photo in front of Central High School in 2009.

Elizabeth Eckford will perhaps be best known as captured in black and white photos when she was surrounded alone, outside the school by a jeering mob.  Today she again lives in Little Rock.

"It's joyful, it really is, because we're a long way from the time that originally brought us together, but we have lifelong ties," Eckford said.  "So it's joyful to see those of us that are 66, 67 and 68 are still around."

Terrence Roberts today lives in California and says he relishes the moments they can meet up.

"It's really good because we don't often have a chance, all nine of us to get together, so it's really a treat to interact with this group for what might be the last time because of our age group.  So each year adds that layer and that element, but it's always good," Roberts said.

Jefferson Thomas lives in Columbus, Ohio,  Gloria Ray Karlmark today lives in Sweden and the Netherlands, and Melba Beals lives in the San Francisco area.

The gathering for the photo shoot ended up being the final time all of the Little Rock Nine got together.  Jefferson Thomas died Sept. 5, 2010.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
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