Monday, May 21, 2007

WARRIORS DON'T CRY: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High School

I've been accused of liking and reading mostly memoirs. Maybe so, but I'm cautious because I always wonder how honest a person is writing about one's self. What to include about yourself and what to leave out? I think about what Jill Ker Conway had to say at the beginning of one of her memoirs. She wrote, "Memoirs are the most popular form of fiction today." (Her first memoir was The Road From Coorain.)

Melba Pattillo Beal's book, Warriors Don't Cry, is a powerful story of survival with lots of public information to back it up. Melba was one of nine black students to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, following the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to integrate the public schools. Melba Beals described that year in moving detail. What courage it must have taken for this sixteen-year-old girl to enter that building each day not knowing what would or could happen to her! When the State National Guard failed to protect those nine students, President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division soldiers. Melba described how one soldier guarding her saved her eyesight after a student threw some chemical in her face. Danny doused her face over and over with water, which the doctor later declared had saved her eyesight. In discussing Melba's experiences, those of us in the Book Group wondered whether we would have had the courage to face every day what those nine students had to fear as they entered that building!

Melba found encouragement at home from a loving family, a mother named Lois, who taught English in a Black school, a grandmother who stayed close to her and encouraged her to write her feelings and repeatedly reminded her that "warriors don't cry." Melba Pattillo Beals has written a sequel to her book, called White is a State of Mind. I have read it yet. Her website tells me more of where she is now and what she is doing.

Several in our Book Group felt this book should be required reading in our high schools.