40 years later, Melba Pattillo Beals tells her story of being one of the Little Rock Nine, who ended segregation at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Melba Pattillo Beals: In Her Own Words
TOM BROKAW, anchor:
One of the Little Rock Nine, Melba Patillo Beals, then she was a 15-year-old high school junior, now a California author. Her memory of those days and her diary tonight IN HER OWN WORDS.
Ms. MELBA PATILLO BEALS: Wednesday, September 25th, troops came today. We rode to school in a station wagon, a Jeep in front, a Jeep in back. Our driver seems very nice. I got a wonderful, wonderful feeling while I walked up the stairs, while I was being escorted into school.
By February of that year, I wrote in my diary, "Only the warrior exists in me now." Melba went away to hide, because she was too frightened to stay here. And I was being hit day after day after day after day. Kicked day after day after day. And the first few days somebody calls you nigger, animal, a monkey, ape, all those words.
February 12th, some boy poured eggs all over me. I have never, ever been so insulted in my life. I cried for 30 minutes. Thelma, Minnie Jean, and I are beginning to pray for an end, even if it means our death.
When I go into Central High School, I feel the awful sadness of that year. I hope no other child ever has to endure what we endured. I never thought that we went to Central High School because there were white people there, and we were gonna sit beside them and socialize. I went to Central High School to get a better education.
I was a little girl who rode the back of the bus, drank from a water fountain marked “Colored,” and had no opportunity. Don't tell me this all isn't working for me, OK? It has worked for all of us. So, what do you mean, was it worth it 40 years ago? You bet your sweet life it was. I bet mine.
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.