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Civil Right activist tells students to learn from history's mistakes

Minnijean Brown Trickey speaks of her time at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, when she and nine other black students entered an all white school in the midst of a screaming mob of protestors. (Below) Trickey answers questions about her experiences at Central High School, then takes time for a Kodak moment with students. (Photos by Deb Bledsoe and Chief Communications Officer Tahira Stalberte.)

“I didn’t want to be like the people who hated me. They taught me what I never wanted to be, and they taught me what I didn’t want to see happen to other people.”

Minnijean Brown Trickey remembers quite vividly the day she and eight other black high school students walked into an all white school (Central High School) in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 in the midst of a screaming mob of protestors.

“I call it American terrorism at its finest, that went on for the whole year, toward us specifically,” she said.

Trickey brought her message of courage and nonviolent protest to hundreds of students from Monroe High School and Central Academy of Technology and Arts (CATA) on Wednesday (Feb. 4), a presentation that occurred in the auditorium at CATA. Her comments were also broadcast via the Internet to students in classrooms at Monroe High School and CATA.

Trickey said she enjoys speaking to students about those events. “We have images of everything. I think seeing an actual person may help to make it a little more real.”
She said her story tells of how a small group of United States teenagers made history in 1957.

The Little Rock Nine, as they later became known, walked through the doors of an all white school three years after the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools was unconstitutional in what would become known as Brown vs. Board of Education.

“It taught me both compassion and that I couldn’t stay ignorant because I’ve seen the America that has a profound, intentional ignorance, and I chose, and I choose and I learned that I didn’t ever want to be that; that I would do lifelong learning and be excited about all kinds of things,” she said.

CATA assistant principal, Josh Wall, said Trickey offered a living history lesson for the students.

“It was a humbling experience we will not soon forget to be in the presence of such a brave hero,” he said. “She made one profound statement that stuck with me when she spoke of how many people do not speak up when they see something that is wrong, and challenged students to speak out appropriately when someone is not treated with dignity and respect.”

UCPS students were first shown actual footage of the day the nine students walked into Central High School under the protection of the US military. The footage also documented the events of that year.

The nine students, Minnijean Brown, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta LaNier, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals, were subjected to a year of physical and verbal abuse by many of the white students.

Footage was then shown of the Little Rock Nine when they appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It also featured some of the white students who had been abusive toward the nine black students. They apologized for their role in harassing them.

The tenacity and bravery of the Little Rock Nine paid off. The following year, on May 29, 1958, Central High School graduated 601 white students and one black student, Ernest Green. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended the graduation with the Green family.

As for what message Trickey hopes to pass on to students, she said she wants students to have an understanding of their own potential as citizens and their sense of social responsibility. “If it’s not good and it’s not working, you have to change it,” she said.

Aimee Bell, a senior from Monroe High School, said she is thankful for the opportunity to have met and spoken with Trickey.

“She is an amazing woman who has so much wisdom,” Bell said. “I’ve learned so much from her. Before that day, I never knew anything about the Little Rock Nine and I left knowing so much. I hope Ms. Brown-Trickey enjoyed us as much as we
enjoyed her.”

“I’m really fortunate to have participated in something that is quintessential in United States history,” Trickey said. “It has all the components of what US history should be about. It’s a great story. It’s got amazing components about mob violence, ultimate bullying, persistence of the human spirit, the constitution and the courts. It’s a story that needs to be told. It’s about teenagers. It’s an inspiring story and I like telling it.”

Not only did Trickey receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, the highest honor awarded a civilian, she has also been featured in People Magazine, Newsweek, the Ottawa Citizen, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, Donahue, as well as on numerous other television, radio and in print media.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Feb 10, 2015 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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