Warriors Don’t Cry Growing up as a teenager, Melba Pattillo Beals had to fight one of the most courageous wars in history. No, not a war that took place in the trenches of a battlefield, but a war that took place in the halls of an American high schoola war against color. Melba was one of nine black students who was involved in one of the most important civil rights movements in American history. These nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on September 4, 1957. This was a major turning point for blacks all across the United States and opened the way for other blacks to begin attending white schools.
Melba managed to survive her days at Central High School and wrote about her extraordinary “battles” and experiences in her autobiography, Warriors Dont Cry. Melba began her story with her childhood in Little Rock, Arkansas. She lived with her mother, grandma, and brother in a strict and religious household. Her family had come to accept the fact that they would always be mistreated because of their color. In the South this mistreatment of blacks was seen as perfectly normal, but Melba saw things a little differently.
As a young girl, she experienced first hand how awful it was to be segregated against and be constantly ridiculed simply because of her color. Unlike most people, though, she wanted to do something about it and prayed for an opportunity that would allow her to fight back and hopefully make a difference. On May 17, 1954, Melbas opportunity began to emerge. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In spite of the Supreme Court ruling, Arkansas did not begin to integrate its schools.
Eventually, a federal court ordered Central High School in Little Rock to begin admitting black students in 1957 in order to begin the states process of desegregation. Melba saw this as the perfect chance to make a difference in her hometown. She was one of nine courageous students who decided to try to attend the all-white Central High School. Although all the students knew it would not be easy to be the first black students to integrate, it was a lot more strenuous and difficult than anyone of them had imagined. On the first day that they tried to attend Central High School, they didnt even get into the school. There were thousands of people from all over the country outside the school that morning.
Most were anti-segregationists trying to prevent the nine students from entering. As the nine students walked past the angry mob and tried to enter the school, they were stopped and turned away by National Guardsmen who had been sent by Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas. Two weeks later President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 1,000 federal troops to Little Rock to uphold the Supreme Courts decision and allow the desegregation of Central High. As the year progressed, the nine students went through a great deal of suffering and torture, but all stayed strong and kept attending, knowing they were making a difference in the lives of blacks all across the country.
Melba Beals true account of the year she spent at Central High is important reading for everyone. This was a war that had to be fought for civil rights, and Beals book shows the tremendous struggle and suffering she and the eight other students went through. Beals portrays very well the hatred and corruption of the white citizens of Little Rock throughout the book and gives the reader a good glimpse of what it was like to be in her shoes. Every day during the school year, the Little Rock Nine were harassed relentlessly. They would get their books and jackets stolen, have rocks thrown at them, be tripped, pushed into corners and beaten repeatedly.
Not only did the teachers let all of this happen, but they joined in on some of the name-calling. The students even feared for their lives at times. One such event took place when a white student and a group of his friends came charging across a field yelling at Melba, threatening to hang her. In other instances, the nine black students received bomb threats at their homes and death threats against their family members on a regular basis. Not only did the desegregation of Central High School jeopardize the nine students lives, it also ruined their social lives.
One of the most enjoyable things about being a teenager is being able to be with your friends and socialize outside of school. This opportunity was stripped from Melba the second she decided to attend Central High School. She couldnt ever leave her house for anything because of constant threats and anti-segregationists who were just waiting outside of her house. In her book she referred to her home as a prison during the year of integration. Even her black friends from her previous school abandoned her because they were afraid they might be seen by white citizens and hassled themselves.
Melba continually battled with herself, not always knowing what to do. Sometimes she desperately wanted to give up and have her old life back. Once she said that she wanted to die because the battle was just too hard. When she was really discouraged, she found courage in her faith in God and in the support from her family members. Warriors Dont Cry is an inspiring account of courage and a milestone for the civil rights movement. It is because of their struggles and the battles fought by Melba Beals and the other eight students that desegregation finally took place in Arkansas.
At the end of the school year, the black students emerged from Central High victoriously. They had survived an entire year in the hostile environment of the school. They had opened the doors for other black students in the entire country to attend white schools.