Elizabeth Eckford was the only member of the Little Rock Nine to arrive at the first day of school alone. The night before, following the announcement that the National Guard would be at Central High, it was arranged for all of the African American students to arrive at school together. However, Eckford’s family did not own a phone, so she was not informed of the new plan. She recalls that “The night before when the governor went on television and announced that he had called out the Arkansas National Guard, I thought he had done this to insure the protection of all the students” (Eckford). She was unaware of the fact that the National Guard was actually called in to prevent the African American students from entering the school. When she arrived alone, she was harassed and threatened by the mob that surrounded the school. White people called for her to be lynched, told her to go back to Africa and yelled racial slurs at her. When she attempted to enter the school, members of the National Guard prevented her from doing so. It was only after being denied entry by several troops that she realized the real reason for the National Guard’s presence.
Although federal troops were eventually sent in to ensure that the African American students could attend school and protect them, the students still faced harassment and violence constantly. For example, during school, white students threw vegetables and eggs at Eckford, spat on her, and punched her.
Even though the African American students were abused at Central High, Arkansas Governor, Orval Faubus, still could not stand to see them at Central High. As a result, he decided to close all of the city’s high schools to stop racial integration from occurring. The schools eventually reopened and were required to integrate, but Eckford did not return. She took night courses and correspondence courses, earning enough credits to graduate without returning to Central High. She then attended Knox College and Central State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History. She later went on to serve in the U.S. Army for five years as a pay clerk and later as an information specialist.
Unfortunately, Eckford has faced depression and trauma throughout her life as a result of the abuse she endured while attending Little Rock Central High School.
Elizabeth Eckford has received numerous awards for her courage and bravery as a member of the Little Rock Nine. She received the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also earned the Father Joseph Blitz Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice. Furthermore, she was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by President Clinton. Eckford also wrote a book entitled The Worst First Day: Bullied while Desegregating Central High. Elizabeth Eckford is celebrated for the enormous role she played in the Civil Rights Movement. The haunting image of Eckford being screamed at by white people brought international attention to the issue of American racial segregation.
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com
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