Time Brings About a Change–Chapter 5

In 1957, Melba Pattillo was one of a group of teenagers who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the abridged version of her memoir, she describes her fight to survive and thrive in the sometimes violent aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that declared segregation unconstitutional.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. segregation
    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 segregation.
  2. determination
    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.
  3. diversify
    vary in order to spread risk or to expand
    And yes, Central High’s population would diversify and even flourish under a black principal.
  4. scorn
    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.
  5. dispatch
    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.
  6. oblivious
    lacking conscious awareness of
    We nine were oblivious as we examined our younger selves.
  7. obstruct
    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.
  8. coddle
    treat with excessive indulgence
    “But we don’t coddle...” she growled.
  9. humiliate
    cause to feel shame
    Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day.
  10. scurry
    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.
  11. apprehension
    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 apprehension.
  12. kowtow
    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.
  13. ominous
    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.
  14. chastise
    censure severely
    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 chastising parent.
  15. muster
    gather or bring together
    I scratched and kicked and thrashed against him with every ounce of strength I could muster.
  16. liable
    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.”
  17. injunction
    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.
  18. inquisition
    a severe interrogation
    All the while I was trying to back away from their harsh inquisition.
  19. petite
    very small
    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.
  20. pallor
    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.
  21. meticulous
    marked by extreme care in treatment of details
    Delicate in stature, she was as meticulous about her attire as she was about her studies.
  22. feisty
    showing spirit and courage
    People said I had some of her feisty ways in me.
  23. sassy
    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.”
  24. vulgar
    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.
  25. ashen
    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.
  26. commotion
    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.
  27. vile
    morally reprehensible
    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.
  28. furor
    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 furor.
  29. predicament
    an unpleasant or difficult situation
    The people surrounding us shouted, stomped, and whistled as though her awful predicament were a triumph for them.
  30. futile
    producing no result or effect
    Finally, we realized our efforts were futile; we could only pray as we watched her struggle to survive.
  31. accost
    approach and speak to someone aggressively or insistently
    Policemen stood by watching Elizabeth being accosted.
  32. quaver
    give off unsteady sounds
    As she spoke, her voice quavered and her hands shook.
  33. coax
    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.
  34. cultured
    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.
  35. jeer
    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.
  36. grope
    search blindly or uncertainly
    I repeated the word, desperately groping to find just the right response.
  37. initiate
    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.
  38. fret
    be agitated or irritated
    Right then and there I began to fret about the truth I couldn’t tell.
  39. precedent
    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.
  40. incendiary
    arousing to action or rebellion
    They were headed for Little Rock to add to the incendiary feelings in our town.
Created on May 18, 2015 (updated October 16, 2019)

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