Ernest Green is the first black student to graduate from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Green looks back at the first days of desegregation and his experiences going to Central High.
Ernest Green's Story: Integrating Central High School
LESTER HOLT: In Arkansas, the Little Rock School Board delayed integration for three years, but in September 1957, the time had come. The desegregation of Central High School was about to begin.
Mr. ERNEST GREEN: My view was, if change was gonna come, I wanted to be a part of the, part of the change.
HOLT: Ernest Green was one of the nine black students who volunteered, and was then selected by the NAACP and the school board to attend Central High.
Mr. GREEN: Central High School wasn’t a foreign entity, because we’d lived near the neighborhood that the school was located. I knew that the building was much larger than the black school that I was attending.
HOLT: Despite several attempts by the students to enter the school, they were turned away, and after mass protest, Governor Orval Faubus refused to carry out a plan to integrate.
Mr. GREEN: Labor Day evening, the governor was on television indicating that he was calling out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent us from going to school.
HOLT: The governor said the troops were there to prevent violence and to protect life and property. Two days later, Ernest Green and his fellow students gathered to go to school.
Mr. GREEN: We tried to get across the entrance to the school; we were barred by the National Guard.
HOLT: On the other side of the building, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine students, was confronted by an angry mob.
Mr. GREEN: The pictures you see of Little Rock, of the lone girl with the mob behind her, was Elizabeth, and she didn’t get the instructions that we were to meet on the 14th street side of the school instead of the 16th street, and so, the pictures of Little Rock is pretty much framed in a lot of people’s minds by that picture of Elizabeth alone, with the mob behind her. And I think when I got home that evening and saw what Elizabeth had gone through, I realized that this was not gonna be a tranquil change, that there were people really, violently opposed to our going to school there and were going to try to keep us out.
HOLT: Central High and the Little Rock Nine struggled through their first year of integrated schooling.
Mr. GREEN: The students that tried to befriend us, and there were a few initially, were really harassed and ostracized as much as we were. It was a real reign of terror. It was the relationship between the nine of us that really allowed us to endure.
HOLT: At the end of the school year, May 1958, Ernest Green, the only senior of the group, became the first black student to graduate from Central High.
Mr. GREEN: We knew that this was breaking ground for other young people coming along. This was a bigger deal than just going to class each day, and that if we succeeded at it, we just might, you know, add something, widen an opportunity, increase an option for another young man or woman to come behind us.
In a key event of the American civil rights movement, nine black students enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, testing a landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The court had mandated that all public schools in the country be integrated “with all deliberate speed” in its decision related to the groundbreaking case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.