The Guardian

Little Rock Nine: the day young students shattered racial segregation

Sixty years ago, nine teens braved violent protests to attend school after the supreme court outlawed segregation – but racial separation is not over in the US
Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Minnijean Brown Trickey didn’t intend to make a political statement when she set off with two friends for her first day in high school. She was, after all, only 15. “I mean, part of growing up in a segregated society is that it’s a little sort of enclave and you know everybody,” says Trickey, who is African American. “So, I was thinking: ‘Wow! I can meet some other kids.’”

Central high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, seemed to have a lot going for it. “The black school was kind of far away and there was no bus,” she says. “We went to get new shoes and we were really trying to decide what to wear. So we were very teenage-esque about it, just totally naive.”

It was September 1957, the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, and nine black pupils little guessed they were about to plant a milestone in the struggle for civil rights to follow those of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old lynched in Mississippi in 1955, and Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Alabama later the same year.

Brown v Board of Education, the landmark 1954 supreme court ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional, should have meant she and fellow pupils . But Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas, in the deep south, remained defiant and used the national guard to block their enrollment. The African American children were left in limbo for three weeks.

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