Since we were in the area, and since I just finished "Turn Away Thy Son," Elizabeth Jacoway's book about the Little Rock desegregation crisis, we drove by the Arkansas State Capitol on the way home because I wanted to look at the sculptures depicting the Little Rock Nine. The sculptures show them as the teenagers they were almost fifty years ago taking the courageous walk to Central High School. It actually took them several tries to get in, and they finally entered the school on Sept. 24, 1957 -- several weeks after the school year had started. This was a monumental victory, but it was also the beginning of a traumatic year as all nine were subjected to all kinds of torment for the duration of the school year.
A couple of quotes that have stuck with me from the book:
"For the first time in my life, I felt like an American citizen." -- Minnijean Brown, one of The Nine, on walking into Central High School on Sept. 24, 1957.
"I hope that one of these days, when I put my hand over my heart for the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag for its promise of liberty and justice for all, I will be talking about a present reality and not just some future possibility." -- Terrence Roberts, one of The Nine, speaking in the Central High School auditorium in 2005 when a stamp commemorating the crisis was unveiled.
The story of the Little Rock Nine demonstrates so clearly something I've been kicking around in my head for a while now: That a country is not truly free unless it is free for all of its citizens. A seemingly simple concept, but one our country still struggles to grasp.
One side note: Hazel Bryan Massery, the yelling white girl in this famous picture (in all fairness, she immediately regretted her actions and eventually apologized to Elizabeth Eckford), was -- at the time this photo was taken -- a member of the Church of Christ right here in Little Rock.