One of the most profound impressions made on me regarding the advancement of social relationships and the contribution to human potential in my lifetime happened just a few years before I was born. In 1957, nine students from Little Rock, AR made a significant investment in the social collateral that I am still spending today. And they did so by paying a very high price themselves.
Brown v. The Board of Education (Topeka, KS) determined that ‘separate but equal’ was simply veiled racism and oppression against blacks. After several years, it was determined that hemming., hawing and outright defiance needed prompting and plans were made for nine students in Little Rock, AR to integrate into a previously all white school with ‘all deliberate speed.’ But when they prepared to show up for the first day of school, they were blocked by the governor, Orval Faubus. In fact, successful integration took three attempts and the US National Guard to insure peaceful process.
But the nine children: Ernest Green (b. 1941), Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941), Jefferson Thomas (1942–2010), Terrence Roberts (b. 1941), Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942), Minnijean Brown (b. 1941), Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942), Thelma Mothershed (b. 1940), and Melba Pattillo Beals (b. 1941), suffered severe emotional, psychological and even physical assaults during their time at school.
“Mostly what I think about when I think back is how sad for somebody (to go through that) when they’re 15,” Beals told a reporter in 1997, a few days before the 40th anniversary of Central High’s integration. “Because when you’re 15 you want to be loved and accepted, and I just wasn’t ready for the kind of response I would get coming to school.”
Those nine young women and men were taunted, shunned, bullied, teased, swore at, spit on and openly hated. And their own self acceptance and clarity of their own internal compass of value pointed the way.
There are certain moments in history where we are led by those with youth and innocence. They have a defiance toward unfairness and despite their short tenure on this planet they succeed where others often fail. Their success, some would say, comes because they have not fully learned the world is crazy and cannot fully fathom the self-loathing necessary for a single species to turn so destructively in on itself. These pure and powerful youth simply follow an undeniable and revolutionary instinct of love.
I am in awe of their vision and sacrifice and it prods me on toward the extra effort required to recognize and stand up for the love that is precariously standing in harms way. The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It bends because people like these nine take hold of it and pull it in the right direction.