a social system with separate facilities for minority groups
But when I first heard Grandmother’s wisdom, I was fifteen years old, frightened, and caught up in the middle of a political firestorm over racial
firmness of purpose
It would turn out that our
determination to remain in school, despite having to tread through a jungle of hatred and human torture from segregationists, would help to change the course of history and grant access to equality and opportunity for people of color.
vary in order to spread risk or to expand
And yes, Central High’s population would
diversify and even flourish under a black principal.
look down on with disdain
On this day, many of the people who once
scorned us have come to congratulate us for standing our ground, for claiming our equality, for completing that year at Central High School against all odds.
send away towards a designated goal
There are also more than one hundred news reporters and flashing media cameras; with dignitaries, U.S. senators, state legislators, and ministers; and with the city’s uniformed police officers (yes, members of the same Little Rock force once
dispatched to keep us out of Central High in 1957) who were there this day to protect us, to ensure passage through the crowds and safe entry onto the stage.
lacking conscious awareness of
We nine were
oblivious as we examined our younger selves.
shut out from view
Going forward, I am grateful for this time of celebration but I don’t want it to
obstruct all our perceptions of the fact that there is a lot of work still to be done.
treat with excessive indulgence
“But we don’t
coddle...” she growled.
cause to feel shame
humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day.
move about or proceed hurriedly
Scurrying past the people waiting in line, I was so terrified that I didn’t even take the time to pick up my precious pennies.
fearful expectation or anticipation
With the passage of time, I became increasingly aware of how all of the adults around me were living with constant fear and
bend the knees and bow in a servile manner
There were so many times when I felt shame, and all the hope drained from my soul as I watched the adults in my family
kowtow to white people.
threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments
There was an
ominous silence in the store. Everybody was staring at us. Other people in the store, some of them our friends, stood absolutely still, fear in their eyes.
There was fire in Daddy’s eyes, but once again Grandma looked at him and he backed down; the three of them cowered like children before a
gather or bring together
I scratched and kicked and thrashed against him with every ounce of strength I could
likely to be affected with
“We ain’t gonna call the law. Those white police are
liable to do something worse to her than what already happened.”
a judicial remedy to prohibit a party from doing something
That month a Mrs. Clyde Thomason, secretary of a new group called the League of Central High Mothers, filed a petition for an
injunction to keep the Little Rock school board from carrying out its gradual integration plan.
a severe interrogation
All the while I was trying to back away from their harsh
For the first time, I met Mrs. Daisy Bates, a
petite and smartly dressed, steely-eyed woman who was the Arkansas state president of the NAACP.
unnatural lack of color
She had a heart problem that at times changed her
pallor to a purplish hue and forced her to rest on her haunches to catch her breath.
marked by extreme care in treatment of details
Delicate in stature, she was as
meticulous about her attire as she was about her studies.
showing spirit and courage
People said I had some of her
feisty ways in me.
improperly forward or bold
“If there’s anyone who can integrate that school, it’s you. You’re just
sassy enough to pull it off.”
conspicuously and tastelessly indecent
The call just after midnight from the NAACP didn’t really disturb us because we were already receiving a series of late night calls from segregationists who were loud and
vulgar in their views.
pale from illness or emotion
As she held the phone to her ear, she stood motionless and silent and her face grew
ashen and drawn.
a disorderly outburst or tumult
Everyone’s attention seemed riveted on the center of the line of soldiers where a big
commotion was taking place.
Others with angry faces and wide-open mouths were screaming their rage. Their words were becoming increasingly
vile, fueled by whatever was happening directly in front of the school.
a sudden outburst, as of protest
Most people ignored us, jostling each other and craning their necks to see whatever was at the center of the
an unpleasant or difficult situation
The people surrounding us shouted, stomped, and whistled as though her awful
predicament were a triumph for them.
producing no result or effect
Finally, we realized our efforts were
futile; we could only pray as we watched her struggle to survive.
approach and speak to someone aggressively or insistently
Policemen stood by watching Elizabeth being
give off unsteady sounds
As she spoke, her voice
quavered and her hands shook.
influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
“Let’s go, Grandma, we’re gonna be late,” I said, trying to
coax her toward the front door.
marked by refinement in taste and manners
When it was all over, she would revert to her quietest and most
cultured tone, speaking barely above a whisper.
laugh at with contempt and derision
It pained my insides to see, once again, the twisted, scowling white faces with open mouths
jeering, clustered about my friend’s head like bouquets of grotesque flowers.
search blindly or uncertainly
I repeated the word, desperately
groping to find just the right response.
set in motion, start an event or prepare the way for
If I got into trouble and really needed protection, it would probably be the network of phone calls
initiated by Reverend Young that would set off a rescue and construct a web of safety.
be agitated or irritated
Right then and there I began to
fret about the truth I couldn’t tell.
a legal decision that influences subsequent decisions
The federal court hearing would be one of the most significant in history—a precedent-setting decision could be made that affected the whole country.
arousing to action or rebellion
They were headed for Little Rock to add to the
incendiary feelings in our town.