The Little Rock Nine and the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers of Equality

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The Civil Rights Movement really helped propel our nation a step forward, doing something that was long overdue. Slavery in the United States begin in 1619. It was never really ended until 1865 due to the 13th Amendment. Although slavery with African Americans was over, equal rights and opportunities to these individuals were not close to being achieved. Many people and groups played a big role in giving African Americans, as well as other individuals, those equal opportunities that they strived for. Whites went to different schools, had different bathrooms, even had separate water fountains from African Americans. On September 4, 1957 a group of 9 African American students, at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, wanted to be the change that they wanted to see.

Minnijean Brown,16, Elizabeth Eckford,15, Ernest Green,16, Thelma Mothershed,17, Melba Patillo,16, Gloria Ray,15, Terrence Roberts,15, Jefferson Thomas,15, and Carlotta Walls,14, were brave enough to take on a journey that they knew might be difficult and very hard to deal with mentally and even physically. Daisy Bates, who was the President of the NAACP in Arkansas, picked these students to be the ones who would begin school at a predominately white high school. They soon later became known as the “Little Rock Nine.” So, on September 4, 1957 8 of the Little Rock Nine made their way onto the campus of Central High. They were driven by Daisy Bates. The one that didn’t arrive with the rest of the nine was Elizabeth Eckford. Eckford arrived to Central alone because she did not have a telephone, so she was not aware of the transportation plans. The Arkansas governor of that time, Orval Faubus, sent in the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine from entering the school. Faubus said that this was for the student’s protection, rather than it being a problem with the African American students being in a school with whites. While the nine were trying to enter the school there were many whites yelling, spitting, and protesting the idea of mixing blacks and whites in a school setting. The National Guard was removed 16 days later on September 20. 3 days later the nine were escorted through the angry white protestors. With fear of the nine being injured, the police took them away to safety. On the 25th President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 1,200 people from the United States Army to escort the Nine. Finally, the Nine African American students arrived at school and were able to take part of a regular school day. All but one of the nine finished the school year after being bullied and made fun of daily by white students. Minnijean Brown was the one who didn’t make it to the end of the school year. Brown was kicked out for lashing back at the bullying. These nine were a huge reason to why the civil rights movement was successful. Especially with the nine all being younger than 17 and making such a big impact on the world.

The Little Rock Nine inspired more movements and progression to be made in the goal for everyone to have equal rights. Melba Patillo, who was one of the nine, said that the soldier who was instructed to protect her told her that in order to get through the year she would have to become a soldier. He said, “Never let your enemy know what you are feeling.” Patillo obviously took the soldiers advice as she made it through the year. That soldier-like attitude was a common attitude that civil rights leaders had to adopt. I would say that the Little Rock Nine were significant in 3 main different ways. The first is that the Nine were able to integrate blacks into schools with whites, which made a big impact in civil rights. The second is that they were so young compared to most civil rights leaders. Lastly, they never gave up on going to Central High even when they were tormented every day, but it led them all to being successful people.

The Little Rock Nine were the first African Americans to really cause a stir by going to an all-white school. They probably didn’t know that they would do something that would change the world and be talked about 60 years later. 3 years before in 1954 there was the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. Oliver Brown filed a suit against the Board of Education in Topeka Kansas. This was a result of Brown’s daughter not being able to enroll at an all-white school in Topeka. Brown said that schools for African American kids were not on the same level as white schools, as in the quality of education. He said that it violated the 14th Amendment. It was ratified in 1868 and basically said that citizenship is acknowledged to all the people who were born in the United States, even if the person was a slave. It also gave citizens equal protection. Oliver Brown had a valid argument that the 14th Amendment was not being put to use. Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregation in schools went against that equal protection of citizens that was ruled in the 14th Amendment. The Little Rock nine basically tested Brown v. Board of Education to see if the ruling changed anything. Obviously, the ruling didn’t change much with all the difficulty of these black students trying to enter the all-white Central High School in Little Rock. Many whites didn’t want to see black students in schools with their kids. After these 9 students attended a white school it became more common for whites and blacks to attend school together. They really made the 14th Amendment go into effect singly handedly.

The fact that the Nine’s ages ranged from 14 to 17 is impressive in itself. They had the confidence and bravery to take on a huge challenge that would get a ton of publicity. It was shocking at that time to see young teenagers that just destroyed segregation with their bold moves. There were many leaders in the civil rights movement but there may not be any that were younger and made as big of an impact as the Little Rock Nine. Obviously today we have schools with all kinds of ethnicities. This is largely in part of these brave students. Most of the time young people may be overlooked because of their youth, especially as young African Americans. These nine young men and women didn’t care. They faced segregation head on and fought for their equality. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The Little Rock Nine achieved this. Eventually they were judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Lastly the nine students never gave up. The NAACP president in Arkansas believed in these young kids to achieve what they wanted done. The first day they tried to attend Central High School they were mocked and protested against. Elizabeth Eckford, who was the youngest that arrived alone, was spat on. There is a famous picture of Eckford, where in the background a white woman is yelling at her. Eckford looks calm as she keeps on walking. Like the soldier told her, Eckford has a soldier-like attitude, which all the nine had. They were tormented daily but still woke up and faced those challenges every day which displays a lot of heart and bravery.

The Little Rock Nine still, today, is making an impact on the world. They now have a foundation called “The Little Rock Nine Foundation.” It was created to help advocate for equality for all human beings. Although there are still some less fortunate and minority kids that do not receive the education to allow them to be successful. The foundation’s mission is “to provide direct financial support and a mentorship program for students to help them reach their educational goals. They strive to inspire kids to be proud of their education and to want their education. The Foundation encourages these kids to take advantage of the opportunity to have a quality education that will set them up for future success. Even their foundation has inspired others to take part in helping young, less fortunate children, especially African Americans. Professional NBA basketball player, Lebron James, has built a school in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. The “I Promise School” provides a free education to many kids in the Akron area. They provide free breakfast, lunch, and snacks for the kids as well as many other benefits. Without the Little Rock Nine this opportunity still may have not been accomplished to this day.

The Little Rock Nine’s story is still shared today. There is was an off-Broadway play that was called “Little Rock.” Those who were able to get the play to the big national stage explain that it’s hard to hear about this story of these nine young teenager, but it is also very important to hear their story. They also explained that it was important to them to draw black, as well as white, audiences to the play. It’s important for all of us to understand the risks that people had to take to get this country to where it is today. To be more prepared and knowledgeable of the Little Rock Nine’s story they talked to Ernest Green, who was 16 when he attended Central High. He said he was driven to act the way he did by the example set by his mother and father, as well as other civil rights leaders, including athletes such as Jackie Robinson. It took over ten years for them to prepare for “Little Rock” to finally be ready for performance. Finally, they took the stage in September of this year and told the story to thousands.

Today 8 of the 9 are still living. The deceased was Jefferson Thomas. After high school he went on to serve in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam. He operated a business with his family and also received a bachelor’s in business administration at California State University. He passed away in 2010 from cancer.

Melaba Patillo went on to graduate from San Francisco State university with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and also worked to receive her Ph.D. She became a reporter with NBC in San Francisco. She has written two books that have to do with her experiences that came from her bravery in 1957. Now she is in the communications department at Dominican University.

Carlotta Walls, who was the youngest member, graduated from Central High School. She attended the University of Northern Colorado. She is now the President of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, as well as a real estate broker.

Elizabeth Eckford was the one who walked to school alone. She did not graduate from Central High School. After high school she attended a few colleges and eventually earned a bachelor’s in history. She served in the U.S. Army as a journalist and also used her degree to be a history teacher. Today she lives in Little Rock where she is a probation officer.

Ernest Green was the only senior of the Nine. After graduating he went to Michigan State and earned a bachelor’s in social science as well as a masters in sociology. He also went on to be appointed as the Assistant Secretary of Labor during Jimmy Carter’s administration from 1977 to 1981. He is now the Senior Managing Director at Lehman Brothers, which as an investment banking firm.

Gloria Ray graduated from Kansas City Central High School and went on to attend Illinois Institute of Technology. She earned her bachelor’s in chemistry and math. She worked as a public-school teacher for a short while. Eventually she moved to the Netherlands to work for a telecommunications company. Ray retired in 1994.

Minnijean Brown was expelled from Central High after lashing back out at her antagonizers. Eventually she graduated from a high school in New York. She graduated from Southern Illinois University with her degree in journalism and also got another degree in social work from a University in Canada. She became a social activist and also served as a deputy assistant secretary for workforce diversity in the Clinton administration. She had a documentary made about her life.

Terrence Roberts moved to California after his year at Central High and graduated from Los Angeles High School. He went to California State University, where he earned his bachelors in sociology, as well as the University of California, where he received his master’s in social welfare. He then received a Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University in psychology. Roberts became a CEO of his own management consultant firm. He as well wrote about events that happened in 1957 and his experiences with them.

Thelma Mothershed received her diploma from Central High, which she received through the mail, in 1959. She too graduated from Southern Illinois University. She earned her bachelor’s in home economics, as well as her masters in guidance and counseling education. Mothershed taught in the Illinois school system for 28 years. She also worked a detention center for juveniles. She Retired in 1994 and now lives in Little Rock.

I have learned a lot about and a lot from these people. They were such brave, young people. They took a big risk to leave somewhere that they were comfortable at and had friends and did something that changed the country. Being so young these 9 relate to many teenagers today. Many young African Americans, as well as whites, look at their story and find inspiration. They teach how important education is to help us become successful. Not only that but that having heart and the desire to not give up no matter how far away your dreams may be, if you fight and work hard enough we can all achieve and reach those dreams. The Nine also broke the color barrier single handedly. 9 young African Americans wanted to walk into a school surrounded by whites to receive a quality education and also the show they deserved everything that whites had. They showed that everyone was equal. The Little Rock Nine played a big role in the Civil Rights movement. They made the 14th Amendment be used and forced people to abide by it. Thankfully today because of them the quality of education for everyone is much better. Today it is the norm to attend school with many different races. These teenagers proved that the color of your skin or how you look doesn’t matter. All that matters are how much heart you have. We should all be thankful for September 4, 1957 and how they day changed America and how these teenagers proved that if you stay on the right path you can be successful and overcome every obstacle that is put in your way. 

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The Little Rock Nine and the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers of Equality. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved April 24, 2024 , from

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