Monday, September 17, 2007

Questions and Lessons from Little Rock

I read an article today that talked about the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock 9 integrating Central High. The article mentioned the iconic imagery of Elizabeth Eckford walking alone past a angry and jeering crowd. It mentioned the fact that the Armed Services were pitted against each other as President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to escort black children to Central High while Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the National Guard to keep black children out. It mentioned that it took 3 more weeks after the appointed day before the students were able to be gain entry into the school through a side door, but even then, the mob grew so rowdy that the 9 had to be removed out of fear for their safety.

But what was most stunning about the article to me were the incredible comments and recollections of folks in Little Rock about the event.

Mark Stodola, the Mayor of Little Rock said it's time to put the past aside. He says Little Rock never deserved its racist reputation and that "the people who want to continue to look to the past are an impediment to where we want to go for the future." [Emphasis Mine]

And while I thought that that comment was quite "special", my personal 'WTF' Award definitely has to go to Ralph Brodie.

Ralph Brodie, a Central High football player and student-body president at the time of the crisis, says the reputations of many were unfairly tarnished by the actions of a few. Most people at Central were receptive to the black enrollees, he says, yet the world focused on "problem students—25 maybe, a minuscule percentage. [Emphasis Mine] " The rest did everything they could to make that school-year work," says Brodie, a lawyer and member of Central's 50th Anniversary Commission.
Not surprisingly, the members of the Little Rock 9 do not remember things that way.

"The tone was set by a couple of hundred students engaged in this reign of terror," says Ernest Green, one of the Nine and an executive with Lehman Brothers. "The silence was deafening. We would have appreciated some of them speaking out when all of this harassment was going on." Eckford also dismisses Brodie's point. Those who were silent, she says, are just unwilling to "think of themselves as bad people."

Isn't it incredible that people could attempt to revise and rewrite historical events that occurred within a single lifetime?
And isn't it more incredible that someone with such a 'faulty memory' as Mr. Ralph Brodie, would be selected to serve on the official Central High 50th Anniversary Committee?
What is perhaps most tragic is that many, if not most, within our younger generations of children upon hearing this, wouldn't even recognize that the story had been changed...
What this story brought home to me is the fact that if we don't tell our story, we could really lose it. People who dedicated their lives to the uplift of the African-American community are rapidly fading from the pages of history. Men and Women like Vessey, Pinchback, Rustin, Robeson, Hamer, Fannon, Diop, Cullen, Truth, Scott, Wilson, Hampton, Garvey, Evers, and others are not even mentioned in our school curriculums. A child could graduate High School with honors, never even having heard their names... It's imperative that we remember and retell their stories...

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