Tuesday, February 3, 2009
South Middle School eighth grader lands interview with Little Rock Nine member
Mr. Randy Turner's eighth grade communication arts classes are researching the American Civil Rights Movement during the third quarter, and one student has gone above and beyond in collecting information for her project.
Karissa Dowell recently landed an e-mail interview with Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine, the students who successfully integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.
The text of the letter is featured below:
1. What was the first day like for you at Central?
The first day was frightening and scary for the most part. Several students left class when I walked in saying they refused to go to school with niggers. I was on guard all day because many students pushed and shoved me around, and called me names.
2. What was it like in the classroom? How did teachers act or treat you?
The classrooms were scary places since the same kind of behavior mentioned above was present there as well. In the main, the teachers were not happy to see the nine of us. My English teacher asked me why I wanted to go to their school since I had a school of my own. A few teachers were supportive, and tried to make life easier for us by telling the white students not to bother us.
3. Were you able to make any white friends at Central?
Any white kid who tried to be our friend was immediately saddled with the label “nigger lover” and became a target for violence. Since the reward for being friendly toward us was to get beaten up, there were only a few students who chose to do so.
4. What did the people from your old school think when you were going to Central?
Now, while I don’t know the thoughts of every single person, I do know that many of my former schoolmates were very concerned about our welfare and wanted to help out in any way they could.
5. What was the overall opinion of white people before and after you entered Central?
Again, it is difficult to talk about the overall opinion since opinion varies so much. Perhaps it is best to say that the majority of white people were not in favor of desegregation.
6. Did you ever have to physically fight to defend yourself at Central because of your race?
We chose to adopt a philosophy of nonviolence so we purposely did not fight (in the main). One of our group, Minnijean Brown, was kicked out of school for fighting, so yes, there were such times.
7. Do you still keep in contact with the other members of the Little Rock Nine?
Yes. In fact, we are all Board Members of the Little Rock Nine Foundation which can be located on the web at: www. LittleRock9.com.
8. What was the biggest learning experience you gained from the events at Central?
The biggest thing was that people will go to great lengths to oppose changes that are not seen as favorable to them.
9. How long was it before the students started to get used to you?
Since the Governor closed all high schools in Little Rock during the next school year, there was not much opportunity for any of us, white or black, to get used to each other.
10. What is the state of affairs in relation to race relations today?
Unfortunately this country has chosen not to confront the issues of racism and for that reason we are still plagued by this virus, if you will. In order to combat racism, we must first admit that there is a problem; that part has yet to be accomplished. Indeed, there are many voices saying that racism has run its course and is no longer alive. The truth is, I fear, much different.
11. Who were your role models during that time?
My role models included anyone who made healthy life choices; I watched closely to see who in my world made such choices.
12. How did you find the courage to continue?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that I knew what we were doing was the right thing to do; you will be surprised to find how much you can accomplish when you know without doubt that your mission is righteous. Also, I knew as well that hundreds of people had died in the fight for justice before I even arrived on the scene. I could not disrespect their efforts by saying no to my opportunity to be involved in the same struggle.
13. Where did you go to escape the tension during that year?
Often I would retreat to the school library where the librarian maintained a rather strict environment; no nonsense was allowed. Also, since the nine of us had to sign an affidavit declaring that we would not engage in any extracurricular activities at Central, we could leave school after classes and escape the tension that way as well.