My parents raised me on a steady Civil Rights diet. They were active in the movement and were proud of what they had accomplished, but they also wanted my sister and me to know…to remember…to understand that others faced violence and death for us.
That was my legacy…my inheritance...that people faced violence so that I could have a chance at a decent education.
The use of federal troops in 1957 to enforce the integration of Little Rock Central High School is featured in many a documentary including my favorite, Eyes on the Prize. I remember watching Daisy Bates and being so inspired and proud that a black woman activist was a key part of the struggle.
But there is one scene filmed on that first day in 1957 that is most powerful to me.
It features Elizabeth Eckford…her family didn’t have a phone and she didn’t know that everyone had planned to arrive together…and she arrived alone only to be surrounded by that mob. People were shouting and screaming and there’s Elizabeth Eckford...all alone. Her eyes are hidden behind sunglasses…her blouse and skirt were pressed and first day of school neat.
Merciful God, what she must have been thinking…how scared she must have been and oh so confused…and yet she stood unbowed. She tried to enter the school but was turned back around…she was bumped and shoved and her way was blocked. Finally she sat at a bus stop...visibly terrified, totally alone in a sea of hate.
Someone finally emerged from the crowd and guided Elizabeth Eckford to a bus, most likely saving her life.
That was day one.
And Elizabeth Eckford went back for day two...and the days upon weeks that followed.
I know…and will always remember that Elizabeth Eckford faced that mob alone.
She came home, probably pressed another dress before going to bed and then she woke up and returned to face down that mob again.
I carry that with me always. Sometimes I take it out and review it when things seem impossible or frightening or just not worth it.
A legacy…an inheritance…purchased with courage just 50 years ago.