I could feel a warm Southern breeze surrounding me while I was walking towards the Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, the 9th of September. I quickly discovered that I would not the only one there to witness the following event. Hundreds of others were already standing outside the school anticipating the arrival of the nine black students who had been registered for admission to the school. Central High School had been the centre of attention in the media all over the United States, all because of the commotion prior to the integration of the school.
It all started the 17th of May 1954 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in the schools was unconstitutional. The Little Rock School Board adopted a plan that a gradual integration would start in September 1957. But on the night of September 2, the night before school was scheduled to start, Governor Orval Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard along with the State Police to surround the campus of the Central High School to refuse the nine black students to enter.
And because of this, nearly 300 people were now surrounding the school, speculating whether or not “the Little Rock Nine”, as they were called, would even show up. But they did not have to speculate for long. The first student to arrive was a young girl named Elisabeth Eckford. The minute she started walking towards the school, the crowd began shouting for someone to lynch her. Still she walked slowly but assertively, fully aware of the fact that most of the bystanders and viewers were not supportive of the integration of the school. She kept her head high while walking towards some of the guards, obviously trying to avoid being caught in the middle of the huge crowd who had been awaiting her arrival.
But as she reached the guards at the front entrance, after walking past all the people shouting at her, they would not even let her pass. The girl looked quite distraught at this, and as she was refused to enter the school building, the mob of people closed in on her. I could see she hastily started walking against a bench after a woman had spat right on her, amazingly her head still held as high as before. She walked increasingly faster to reach the park bench before she finally got there. I could see a man put his arm around her as she sat there, probably the only friendly face she had seen all day.
As I saw the poor girl driving away in the yellow school bus, after being both verbally and physically assaulted by adult people in a civilized world such as this, it became clear to me that it would be a long process to fully integrate blacks into the world of the whites. But even more, it would be a long and painful process before everyone could be treated as equals, and not be judged by the colour of their skin.