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65th anniversary of desegregation of Central High School concludes

MinnieJean Brown-Trickey poses in front of the new street sign.
Josie Lenora
Minnijean Brown-Trickey, who was one of the nine students who desegregated the school in 1957, poses in front of a new street sign on Sunday.

On the fourth day of events marking the 65th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School, several of the nine Black students from 1957 joined City Manager Bruce Moore for a street renaming ceremony. Black plastic, which was covering one of the new street signs, was pulled off on Sunday showing “Little Rock Nine Way,” the new name for a two block section of what was S. Park Street in front of the school.

At the Clinton Presidential Center that evening, seven of the nine spoke about the hostility and how they have come to terms with it.

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

Ernest Green was the first to graduate from Central the following year. He talked about how the city has changed in the years since.

“So, 65 years ago, these streets were unpaved,” he said. “They even hung us in effigy. We only saw the pain of our presence, but today I stand here looking at a street with our names on it.”

Minnijean Brown-Trickey discussed how she has spent the years since then talking to young people.

“Ordinary people,” she often stresses in her conversations with students, “can do extraordinary things.”

Gloria Ray Karlmark reflected on what it was like to talk to a teenage girl over the weekend who asked what the experience was like.

“I told her we were afraid, but we had to do it. The whole world is counting on us.”

Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals joined via Zoom and talked about the relationship she has formed with the other Black students.

“I would never ever have chosen anyone, other than the other eight, to make this journey with me,” Beals said. “I love you all and you have become like sisters and brothers to me. We all fit together like a puzzle that God in heaven must have put together.”

Dr. Terrence Roberts said he believes the U.S. still has more to do to combat racism.

“It is imperative that we understand that racism is a congenital deformity that has crippled this country since its inception,” he said.

Carlotta Walls LaNier spoke about Jefferson Thomas, the only one of the nine who has died. The others are now between the ages of 79 to 81. Thomas died in 2010 from pancreatic cancer.

“He was always the one with a quick joke,” LaNier explained via Zoom. “Jefferson was the one who made us laugh. When laughter is rare, you remember the one who was most likely to make it happen.”

Elizabeth Eckford will perhaps be best known for a black and white photograph of her surrounded alone outside the school by an angry, jeering mob. Sunglasses kept her eyes from being seen. She spoke Sunday about what was going through her mind at that time.

“That stoicism that shone in that famous photograph is what you see when you are trying not to cry,” she said. “I want young people to understand they need to know themselves so other people cannot tell them who they are.”

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.
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