In 1957 I was a six-year-old in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had a lot of company there as members of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division joined us in the city. At the time I didn’t really understand what was going on; why the “army” was in our town to help some teenagers go to school.
I remember that the American troops weren’t as fondly spoken of around the South for being in 1957 Arkansas as they are for being in Iraq and Afghanistan. But isn’t oppression oppression?
I didn’t know that there had been 338 years of vicious cruelty and hatred in our country toward people with dark complexions by people with light complexions like me. I used to see a tiny bit of that oppression when I was in a downtown department store with my mother. I loved to ride the escalator (yes, we had one in Arkansas), but I was confused by the “White” and “Colored” signs on the water fountains and bath rooms. Why would the government (the Jim Crow laws) make people drink from separate water fountains in a land that talked so much about freedom?
It’s seems odd now, but I didn’t know any black people in Little Rock. I lived at 3724 West 21st and was in the first grade at Garland (”White” only) Elementary School. My father’s job put him somewhat in the middle of the integration conflict. He worked for KVLC Radio and did several news reports from Central High School.
Well, Central High School was successfully integrated by the Little Rock Nine and the Army, but I never saw a black person in Garland School or Meadowcliff School (I moved after 4th grade). Today, the Little Rock school district is 70% black.
One of the Little Rock Nine, Terrence Roberts, who is now a faculty member in the psychology program at Antioch University in Los Angeles, recently said: “This country has demonstrated over time that it is not prepared to operate as an integrated society.”
My observations agree with Terrence. It is so sad that still, after 50 years, skin complexion continues to matter in the land that proudly proclaims itself to believe that “all men are created equal” and in “liberty and justice for all.”