NBC's Katie Couric talks with the original Little Rock Nine. In 1957, nine African-American students entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas hoping to end segregation.
Little Rock Nine Discuss Integrating Central High School 45 Years Later
KATIE COURIC, anchor:
Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Lanier, Dr. Terrance Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey, and Thelma Wair. Good morning to all of you. And thank you so much for coming.
GROUP: (In unison) Good morning.
COURIC: It's a real honor to have you here in our studio.
I would--Melba, I was going to ask you, does it seem like yesterday? You watched that videotape, you know, 1957, 45 years ago almost now. Do you remember it vividly?
Ms. MELBA PATILLO BEALS: Vividly. You know, I did write a book about it, and as I was writing the book it was as though I were reliving that whole thing. And whenever we see a tape like this or whatever, my heart sort of skips a beat. We were just saying in the dressing room that, you know, we're really surprised that we're alive today. We didn't think we'd get to be little old potbellied seniors. We were like--we thought we'd die there, you know, and so here we are...
Ms. BEALS: We did.
COURIC: Was it that frightening, Mr. Green? I mean, did you feel that you would potentially lose your life during that whole episode?
Mr. ERNEST GREEN: It was. Well, I thought of it as going to war every day. I was--we were in the trenches, hand-to-hand combat practically. It was--it was life threatening.
COURIC: Minnijean Brown Trickey, I guess people also--I mean, that—that is such a well-known scene, of you all walking into the school. But the days before that and the days after were just as traumatic, weren't they? Perhaps even more so.
Ms. MINNIJEAN BROWN TRICKEY (One of "The Little Rock 9"): Well, the day before, we were ordinary teen-agers. The days after, we were historical figures. But we had these emotional scars, physical scars from that event, and we hadn't--we hadn't known how to do it. And--because it was one of the first.
COURIC: Glori--Gloria, I know that you brought in a little note that we actually took a shot of earlier that was a threatening card that you all--I mean, tell me some of the things you experienced, in terms of threats, jeers, in the--in the days following. That says "Get Gloria way--"Get Gloria Ray out of the way." In other words, it was sort of a systematic way to bully you guys out of there, wasn't there?
Of the Little Rock nine, Ms. GLORIA RAY KARLMARK: Yes, it was, and it increased as the days went by. And our determination to remain there increased. It was--we follo--made a very solid bond then. And after Minni was expelled, then they really put a harder effort out, and that's when these little cards and things started to appear--to get, in this case, me out of the way, and there were cards for others, too.
COURIC: Carlotta Lanier, do you feel in some ways we have miles to go when it comes to civil rights in this country? Or looking back do you think, how far we've come?
Ms. CARLOTTA LANIER: We have come a long way. However, we have that same amount of distance to make. You think of the positives, and we're fortunate that we're all here today. The graduation for--for Ernie was the first, and Jefferson and I kind of pulled up the rear. And, however, hopefully things will be better in the future for our young people. We have a Little Rock Nine Foundation, and that's something that we are trying to do to encourage our young people to be able to get that basic education that we had to fight for.
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.