Little Rock Revisited

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On Tuesday, September 29, I had the privilege and poignant experience of viewing playwright Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s “Little Rock,” a play reading done superbly by cast members Clifton Davis, Leslie Uggams, Leslie Becker, Sherry Boone, Alan Campbell and Rodney Hicks. The play, featured for two days, September 29-30, was so moving that many of the audience members unabashedly cried, cheered, and felt enormous pride when one of the 9, Carlotta Walls LaNier, was introduced.

For those of you who may not know of this historic event, in 1957, 9 African American children volunteered to integrate the segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was a time when the Jim Crow laws were in full-force and Blacks went to separate schools, had to use separate bathrooms and were denied access to white owned restaurants and facilities. Initially, these students were prevented from entering the all-white school by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus who sent the National Guard to block the children’s entrance into the school. Mobs of enraged segregationists, filled with hate, stood outside of the school determined to keep the statusquo. So violent and threatening were these mobs of whites that President Eisenhower, determined to enforce the Supreme Court ruling of school desegregation, intervened by sending a 1000 troop members to escort the black children to school. These nine children, Terrence Roberts, Melba Pattillo Beals, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Thelma Mothershed-Wair, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Gloria Ray Karlmark and Ernest Green were subjected to unimaginable atrocities. Acid was thrown in the eyes of Melba Pattillo Beals who only escaped blindness due to the quick reaction of her military guard. A lighted stick of dynamite was thrown at her and she was also stabbed. Fire bombs were thrown at the black children in the cafeteria. They were spit upon, kicked, pummelled, called “Nigger,” ‘monkey’ and all forms of degrading names. They were tormented, tortured and humiliated by both white boys and girls. Mobs threatened to lynch them and their parents. Some white kids even peed in their lockers and upon their books. Each day brought a different hateful torture. Yet, these young black students prevailed despite the fact they were told not to retaliate.

After their military guards withdrew, these teenagers were left to face the villiany of the demented mob, racist teachers, school administration and white students. Even their parents were threatened with lynching and 4 were fired from their jobs. Yet, these brave students and their parents endured. When Minnijean Brown Trickey finally couldn’t stand it any longer, she reacted by spilling her bowl of chilli upon one of her tormentors. The school expelled her. Whites gleefully held up signs saying: “One down, 8 to Go.” Of varied ages, these young heroes only wanted to be left alone to pursue their education but that was not to be their fate; only Green graduated, since the following year, Gov. Faubus shut down all public schools in the state.
Known as the Little Rock 9, all 9 individuals are alive today. Thelma Mothershed went on to earn her Master's degree in Guidance & Counseling and holds a Administrative Certificate in Education from Southern Illinois University. She taught home economics in the East St. Louis School System for 28 years before retiring in 1994. Minnijean became an activist for minority rights. Eckford presently lives in Little Rock and continues to be a role model. Gloria Ray who currently lives in Sweden, earned a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and Mathematics, served as an executive officer for a Dutch company and publisher of a European computer magazine and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Jefferson Thomas frequently speaks at high schools and universities throughout America and is a mentor to young children. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Congressional Gold Medal. He was honored by the State of Arkansas with a statue of his likeness as were all the other Little Rock 9. After over twenty-seven years as a civil servant, Thomas retired on September 30, 2004 from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Columbus, Ohio. Beals graduated from Columbia School of Journalism and presently lives in San Francisco where she teaches. She earned her doctorate this year. Terrence Roberts received his Master's degree in social welfare from the UCLA School of Social Welfare and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Southern Illinois University. He served as core faculty and co-chair of the Master of Arts in Psychology program before retiring in 2008. Carlotta graduated from Colorado State College. She founded LaNier and Company, a real estate brokerage company and has authored a book “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.” Ernest Green earned a master’s degree in sociology and became the Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Jimmy Carter until 1981. Green has been depicted in two TV movies about the Little Rock Nine.

“Little Rock,” sponsored by Peggy Dodson via her Urban Broadcasting Company, produced by Rebel Theater and written and directed brilliantly by Maharaj is a MUST SEE. It is a shame that after all the Little Rock 9 went through to pave the way for future black students, currently far too many black children are not taking advantage of a good education.

Black people, without an education we cannot move forward. Remember your history. We cannot blame others any longer. It’s time to realize others are only interested in their own. We must be supportive of our own as well. United we stand, divided we fall! We have endured too much in America to fall or to fail. Unless, parents, teachers, politicans and the students themselves turn this around, hope will surely be lost. Drop the “N” word. Forget the bling. Get an education. Become the future doctors, lawyers, scientists, and mighty people we are.

The hope is to get this play to Broadway and eventually have a television special. Little Rock may even have an off-Broadway run in the Spring. Stay tuned.

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