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55 Years Ago Today


Federal troops escorting the Little Rock Nine into Central High School for the first time. Photo credit: Bettman/CORBIS.

Fifty-five years ago today, nine African American students – known as the Little Rock Nine – walked through the front doors of Little Rock Central High School, guarded by troops from the 101st Airborne. The arrival of the troops on September 24th, who were called in by President Dwight Eisenhower, was reported on the front page of The New York Times. The forced integration of Little Rock Central High was the biggest news about race relations to come from Little Rock since John Carter was lynched on May 4, 1927, after an all-day manhunt. A public riot in the black business district followed his murder until the mob was quelled by the National Guard.

My family witnessed and participated in both of these events. My aunt and uncle were students at Central High School the year of the integration, and my great-grandfather was a deputy sheriff who participated in the lynching. The legacies of both of these events still resonate in Little Rock and elsewhere. The current group whose harassment is making news in Little Rock are Latinos, but the underlying problem is prejudice and discrimination all the way around, and an apparent reluctance to address the problem.

At these Civil Rights anniversaries, we all can pat ourselves on the back and say, “Look how far we’ve come,” but have we? Protestors are hanging empty chairs from trees in Virginia, Texas, and Colorado, and dubiously claiming the acts are not meant to be lynchings-in-effigy of the first African American president. Health, poverty, and education disparities still are so significant in this country, we’re still paying dearly for the legacy of forcibly enslaving Africans who brought to this country. America hardly has achieved the progress and unity that were the dream of the Civil Rights Movement, and the much-vaunted ideals on which this country were founded were outright falsehoods when the founding documents were written and signed.

© 2012 Stephanie Harp. All rights reserved.

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