Thursday, February 07, 2008

Little Rock Nine

Last night I attended a talk with my mentee at the local college by Minnejean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine, the teenagers who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, amidst rioting and the National Guard. Fascinating!

Elie Wiesel's statement "...to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all..." was a theme of Trickey's talk. She used this illustration: There were perhaps twenty white kids who were kind to the Little Rock Nine, and one hundred who overtly tormented them. The other thousand kids stood by and said nothing. She asked, Whom did we (the audience) think felt supported by the silent majority? When regular people stand by and say nothing, it's the tormentors who feel supported, not the charitable.

Here's another passage from Weisel: "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

Trickey also pulled a quote from a Hopi prayer (recently read in full by Maria Shriver at an inaugural event): "We are the ones we are waiting for."

Trickey, who was sixteen at the time of the integration, stayed strong throughout. She spoke of skipping home from school every day, as a way to show resistance and that they weren't beating her down. A famous incident involving a bowl of chili eventually led to her expulsion from the school. She has since spent her life as a crusader for civil rights for all people.

I got chills when she read this poem, dedicated to another of the Little Rock Nine.

Soul Make A Path Through Shouting

for Elizabeth Eckford
Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957


By Cyrus Cassells

Thick at the schoolgate are the ones
Rage has twisted
Into minotaurs, harpies
Relentlessly swift;
So you must walk past the pincers,
The swaying horns,
Sister, sister,
Straight through the gusts
Of fear and fury,
Straight through:
Where are you going?

I’m just going to school.

Here we go to meet
The hydra-headed day,
Here we go to meet
The maelstrom

Can my voice be an angel-on-the-spot,
An amen corner?
Can my voice take you there,
Gallant girl with a notebook,
Up, up from the shadows of gallows trees
To the other shore:
A globe bathed in light,
A chalkboard blooming with equations

I have never seen the likes of you,
Pioneer in dark glasses:
You won’t show the mob your eyes,
But I know your gaze,
Steady-on-the-North-Star, burning

With their jerry-rigged faith,
Their spear on the American flag,
How could they dare to believe
You’re someone sacred?:
Nigger, burr-headed girl,
Where are you going?

I’m just going to school.

My mentee and I left the event very thoughtful and quiet. In the car on the way home, lost in our thoughts, she suddenly said, "I wonder what I would have done." I turned to her and said, "I was thinking exactly that same thing."

These are just some things I'm thinking about today, as a white person in this great country of ours.

For more inspiration associated with Black History Month, visit Kim's blog entry, You don't know what you don't know.


Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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1 Comments:

At 2/07/2008 05:59:00 PM, Blogger Kate said...

This poem is so penetrating...thank you for sharing it...and your experience.. with Love, K

PS...I think you would have held her hand and touched her hair and asked if you could learn to braid it someday. that's what I think YOU would have done...

 

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