Title: Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High
Author: Melba Pattillo Beals
Genre: memoir (non-fiction)
Length: 312 pages
Year Published: 2004
Source: personal collection
Reason for Reading: it seemed like a good idea to read it after Naughts and Crosses because both focused on race and how people of different races act around each other
Challenges/Resolutions: Memoir/Biography Resolution; Personal Collection Resolution
One of the nine black teenagers who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957 here recounts that traumatic year with drama and detail. Beals, who is now a communications consultant, relies on her own diary from that era and notes made by her English teacher mother–as well as dubiously recreated dialogue–to tell not only of the ugly harassment she was subjected to but also of the impressive dignity of a 15-year-old forced to grow up fast. Arkansas governor Orval Faubus set the tone of the time by resisting integration until a federal judge ordered it. Although Beals was assigned a federal soldier for protection, the young integrationist was still attacked and prevented from engaging in school activities. She recalls stalwart black friends like Minniejean, who was suspended, and a white classmate who surreptitiously kept her informed of the segregationists’ tactics. Beals looks back on her Little Rock experiences as “ultimately a positive force” that shaped her life. “The task that remains,” she concludes, “is to cope with our interdependence.”
My Thoughts: This book is amazing. If anyone ever wanted to know about the struggles African-Americans had in integrating, especially in the American South, this is the book to turn to. In my book journal–where I write about my thoughts and ideas as I read the book (it’s easier than sharing every single thought on this blog, especially because a journal I can always take with me)–I used 2.5 pages (front and back) to write all of my thoughts.
But here are my final feelings:Beals includes article headlines and some snippets from those articles and her diary. For the most part Beals simply narrates, but she does it in such a way that kept me interested the whole time. I haven’t really read many memoirs before and so I was a little worried I might not like this. But It was just the opposite. I think Beals knew just when and how to change the subject to interject some happier points and things that happened outside of the school. I don’t think I could’ve handled 312 pages of her life in that school. That would be a lot of reading about, to put it lightly, a girl living through hell.
Which brings me to another point. I have studied the Civil Rights Movement often and I’ve definitely been taught a lot about the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) Supreme Court case, as I’m a teacher. But, despite all I’ve learned about the Little Rock Nine and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, I’ve somehoe taken the notion that the violence and verbal harassment the students went through stopped at the doors to the school. I have no idea where I got the idea that the students were only assaulted outside the school by angry citizens and parents. But this book really opened my eyes to what the students suffered at the hands of their white peers. Kicking, punching, spitting, slapping, walking on heels, ink-dumping, knife-point holding, dynamite-throwing, food-dumping were just the physical things white students did while their teachers looked on and ignored it (either because they didn’t care or they were threatened to not react). How could I have been so ignorant?! Plus, while I knew Faubus closed down all Little Rock schools in the 1958-1959 school year to keep the attempted integration from the previous year from continuing, I had no idea the Little Rock Nine were tortured throughout the whole school year! 9 months of that torture. I know I would not be strong enough to take it.
I know that, in my future classroom, when I get a chance to teach about the Civil Rights Movement, I will use excerpts from this diary to try to illustrate for my students the horrors of prejudice.
Reading this book also brought to my attention that I havecome up with some very hypocritical beliefs. I believe that the Southern states had the right to secede from the US (in the 1860s), because it was their right as a state to pull out of the Union. My moral feelings towards the issue of slavery, I have overlooked because technically they don’t matter. While I didn’t like that the South used slavery, they had the right to do it.
But, at the same time I think that segregated schools are wrong. But, Faubus, as the Governor of Arkansas, had the right to do that. (I should’ve realized this sooner.) Education is a state issue–I know this because I am a teacher (well, certified). So, technically my feelings about discrimination shouldn’t matter.
So why do I feel so strongly about the later and let my moral feelings overcome the technicalities when, concerning the former, I let the technicalities override my morals? I’ve been wondering this since it occurred to me a couple days ago when read this book. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was 100 years closer to my own life than the Civil War 😕 Not sure…
My Thoughts on the Cover: I really like the cover I have on my edition. The shadows of the soldiers and the image of Melbaare a great juxtaposition. However, I can’t figure out if the soldiers are supposed to be the 101st Airborne (who protected the students) or the Arkansas National Guard (who didn’t really protect them and who first barred them from entering the school). The look on her face leads me to believe they are the later.