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Little Rock 9 reflect during the 65th anniversary of desegregation

Five of the nine Black students who desegregated Little Rock's Central High School in 1957 talk with reporters during a press conference Friday at the start of events marking the 65th anniversary of the U.S. Army escorting them into the school.

Sixty-five years after international attention was focused on Little Rock as the U.S. Army escorted nine Black students into Central High School to allow its desegregation, five of the nine took part in a weekend of events.

During a press conference on Friday, they shared memories of the hostility they faced, as well as their thoughts on current social justice activism. The theme for this year’s anniversary is “Silence is Not an Option.”

In 1957, then-Gov. Orval Faubus defied a court order, and used the National Guard to prevent the nine from attending the school. President Dwight Eisenhower responded by eventually sending the U.S. Army to escort the students through angry segregationist mobs and into the school.

Among the events this weekend will be the renaming of a two-block stretch of S. Park Street, which runs directly in front of Central High, to “Little Rock Nine Way.”

Ernest Green, who became the first Black student to graduate from Central High, told reporters he thought about that upon his return to the city.

“Getting off of the airplane, I thought about the street being named after us,” he said. “I'm not sure what a street can do, but I think it's a heck of a recognition.”

The surviving members of the group are now between the ages of 79 and 81.

“We’re so grateful to be alive, and to be alive and together,” said Gloria Ray Karlmark. She talked about her family's decision to allow her to continue at Central High despite the harassment she suffered as a student.

“I like to think 223 days my mother and father stood by and allowed me to walk back into that,” Karlmark said.

Elizabeth Eckford said she did not tell her parents about the level of hostility they faced.

“My mother died before ever knowing that we were pummeled every day in school. When I would come home, I didn't talk about what happened at school."

The five agreed that more still needs to be done to improve racial equality in America.

“Not just young people, but all of us citizens need to have a much deeper fund of information about the past,” said Dr. Terrance Roberts.

“Social justice is a life sentence,” Milliejean Brown-Trickey said, referring to the years of civil rights work she has done in the years since graduating from high school.

“I can say that at 81, I have had the absolute amazing life of energy and possibility. Everything I wanted did not happen so I am going to pass away before I see the beloved community, but what I do feel is that I did the best I could.”

Josie Lenora is a news anchor and reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio. She grew up listening to KUAR and NPR News and says she is thrilled to give back to an organization she loves. Josie first interned in the fall of 2021 assisting in production for KUAR and KLRE, then in spring of 2022 spent a semester interning as a new anchor before joining the staff.
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