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Monday, November 7, 2011

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock

"Elizabeth Eckford had walked into the wolf's lair, and now that they felt she was fair game, the drooling wolves took off after their prey."                
                                                                                                         Buddy Lonesome, St. Louis Argus

Elizabeth Ann Eckford walked to school alone the morning of September 4, 1957, due to  miscommunication.  Her family did not have a telephone so when the plans were changed for the location of the "Little Rock Nine" to meet up, Elizabeth wasn't notified.  

That one miscommunication forever changed history as she walked to school and had to pass through an angry, taunting crowd shouting racial slurs and obscenities.  Humiliated and scared, she was denied entrance to the school so Elizabeth had to endure more taunts and heckling as she made her way back through the angry hate-filled crowd to the bus stop and eventually to her mother's workplace. 

With cries of  "lynch her" and  "drag her over to this tree" ringing in her ears, fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford took a serious verbal, mental and emotional beating that day.  A sheep among wolves, Elizabeth's perception of life would forever be altered by this and the experiences to come at Little Rock Central High School.

This book also tells the story of Hazel Bryan, the fifteen year old white girl in the photo, caught screaming at Elizabeth.  In the years following this photo, Hazel would eventually realize the implications of her actions and call Elizabeth to apologize.  

As I read about this iconic photo and how it came to be, my heart broke.  As a parent, I'm not sure I could have withstood what Elizabeth's parents watched her go through as they attempted to be part of history and desegregate the school.  I don't know that I could have offered up my child as an innocent lamb the way her parents did, even though it was supposedly for the betterment of her future.  They trusted those in authority who reassured them this would be for the good of everyone involved. 

However, Elizabeth and the other members of the Little Rock Nine endured abuse, taunts and injustice not only on September 4th but in the days to come.  Though the initial reports from inside the school were upbeat once the Little Rock Nine were enrolled and attending, over time, details would surface of what really happened inside the school.  Assigned "protection" inside the school under the same National Guardsmen who had previously prevented them from entering, these students endured harassment that included being hit with rocks, body slamming, broken glass and scaldings in the locker room showers.

This was a very disturbing read because it is such an honest and accurate portrayal of a very shameful part of our history.   David Margolick writes it exactly as it happened, without sugar coating or glossing over the details, to soften the blow.   I can't say that I enjoyed reading this story as it is heartbreaking, but as a history buff, it helped me understand a major turning point in our culture.

*More conservative readers should be aware that there are some graphic descriptions and language in this book.



Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free for review from Authors on the Web.  No payment was received nor was I required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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