My Journey to Justice at
Little Rock Central High School
A MIGHTY LONG WAY
All week, I managed to keep my composure.
Through the touching anniversary speeches by politicians and civil
rights leaders. Through the lunches, dinners and a reception at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Through a provocative musical drama
that told the story of the Little Rock Nine. Even through a preview of the new visitors’ center for the high school where the real
life drama took place fifty years ago. Through it all, I hardly shed a tear.
I walked around the multimedia
exhibits inside the center and watched the black and white television footage captured on that day—September 25, 1957. But something
wouldn’t let me linger. I didn’t want to see the 14-year-old black girl, climbing those steps in her new, store-bought dress, surrounded
by armed military men under presidential orders to keep the spitting, clawing white mob at bay. I didn’t want to know her fear again.
Then, on the last day of city-sponsored events celebrating the golden anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, President Bill Clinton
cracked my armor. As I sat on a makeshift stage at the foot of the steps that I had climbed the same day five decades earlier, the
former president’s words took me back. He was talking about courage, gratitude and the responsibility that each of us has to contribute
to the world, to do something more than talk, even when stepping up comes at a cost. He turned slightly away from the podium and looked
sideways at us, the gray-haired men and women seated behind him.
“These nine people didn’t just have an opinion,”
he said. “They didn’t just say, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if someone did something to change things.’ These nine people and their families
stepped up and said, ‘Here am I, Lord, send me.’”
My lips started to quiver. Instinctively, my hands went
up to cover them, as though they were a shield, as though they could keep back all of the memories and pain. I thought about Mother,
sitting out there in the audience, still beautiful and elegant at 82. And I remembered watching her soft, jet black hair turn gray
during that tumultuous and uncertain school year. I thought about Daddy, a devoted family man and World War II veteran who didn’t
live long enough to see this day. And I remembered the chilling fear that crept into my soul when the FBI took him away late one night
for questioning and held him for three days after our home was mysteriously bombed during my senior year. I thought, too, about Herbert,
my childhood friend and neighbor, who was convicted by an all-white jury for the bombing and served nearly two years in a maximum
security prison, next to death row inmates, for a crime that I believe to my core he did not commit. I looked to my left and right
on the stage and caught glimpses of my eight comrades, now grandparents and my dear friends. We’d come a mighty long way, and all
nine of us were still here. By now, nothing could keep back the tears…
Remembering Central High - 50 Years Later