Monday, September 24, 2007

TDIH: The Little Rock Nine

**Editor's Note: This post was intended for yesterday, but I was distracted by Cold Case which was then distracted by my little brother's French Revolution history test studying last night. My apologies.

Fifty years ago, the United States watched as federal troops had to escort nine students into Little Rock Central High School. The federal troops, sent in by President Eisenhower, were there to counter the National Guard sent in by the Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.

There's an entire history behind the event, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v Board of Education. A history tainted by a century of prejudice and a nation divided by the issue of integration.

When I was in the fifth grade each student drew a state out of a hat and was required to write a lengthy report on that state. Hoping for Massachusetts or Maine, I was disappointed to draw Alabama--not because I had anything against Alabama, but because I was entranced by New England (still am). Drawing Alabama turned out to be another one of those moments in my life that seemed to define and mold my political leanings as well as frame my interpretation of history.

In the case of Alabama, it was Ross Barnett and George Wallace, two staunch segregationists who startled my ten year old mind. My curiosity got the best of me, as it usually does, and I started to investigate the issue at Central High School.

At ten I didn't understand how such hatred could exist among people who had only one fundamental difference between them--the color of their skin--and today, twelve years later I don't understand it any more than I did then.

How could the ten years between Brown and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 be so loaded with prejudice and confrontation? How could a year that produced the likes of On the Road, Atlas Shrugged, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and 12 Angry Men also produce one of the most heated, prejudice confrontations in U.S. history? Why does it matter if the person sitting next to us in a classroom is black, white, or purple?

Clearly there is a huge disconnect between the generations and those in my generation cannot fathom how the crisis at Little Rock Central High School occurred. However, it did. Fifty years ago nine students walked into an Arkansas high school and blew the doors wide open for generations to come.

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