Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957

Little Rock in Arkansas was the site of a courageous movement to integrate schools in that state. 9 young men and women decided to study in the all-white Central High in Little Rock, AK. Horrified, indignant, and shocked at this demand for equality of access to education, white crowds gathered, rioted, and badgered these 9 students. Placards displaced messages that called for the preservation of Christian faith through segregation, decrying racial “mixing” and so on. Such a sentiment might seem anachronistic to most of us, and I wondered at the source of such a sentiment. I don’t have any answers….but perhaps somewhere deep down in their hearts, the men and women who made up these mobs, perhaps realized that their worlds were coming to an end. They—the (im)moral world order on which it was based—segregation—the heart of their world was being dismantled—and along with it a panoply of legal rules, local customs, and all its pathological practices (the KKK, separate places for consumption of food, travel, and even worshipping God)…This perhaps does not really explain it all…and all this continues to baffle me…Segregation is certainly a pathological condition, it would seem to me…and it afflicted communities in the South as well as in the North. I guess, they were struggling with the question of diversity…and I wonder how will all this go down as the country and the world continues to diversify…will we succeed in becoming more inclusive…?
Anyway, the Central High school is today a national historic monument and perhaps the only functioning school placed under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service. The school was closed but at the Little Rock 9 Visitor Center we had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Minnijean Brown Trickery one of the original Little Rock 9. Dr. Brown-Trickery who is now a diversity trainer, currently holds the Shipley Visiting Writer Fellowship at Arkansas State University. She shared vignettes from her time at the school (she was unjustly expelled from the school and did not complete her education there), her life in Canada and now in the United States. At the museum we also met her daughter Spirit Trickery and later all of us went to Sims Barbecue for lunch. While meeting her, and hearing her life stories will always be treasured by me, I was also sobered by the hate, invective, and violence they suffered why responding in a non-violent manner. One of the markers of the civil rights movement is the consistent practice of non-violence and the peaceful, but firm manner in which they carried out their protests. This has been truly inspirational and Gandhi’s foundational role in helping civil rights leaders to do this cannot be discounted. We also went to the “Testament” Little Rock 9 statue at the Capital Building in Little Rock where all 9 have been immortalized in a sculpture. The 9 have received honorary doctorates, government awards, and even can be found in commemorate coins and stamps! And 8 of them are still alive!
Our long hours on the bus provided an opportunity to engage events like Little Rock and the Freedom Riders through documentaries like “Journey to Little Rock,” and “Little Rock High.” We also saw a film called “Freedom’s Song.”
We also spent a lot of time discussing what we were experiencing, viewing, and feeling. It has been a long journey indeed for me…trying to understand all these details intellectually, racially (I realize the importance of this category in the United States), and even spiritually. And how can reconciliation be worked out in this context? For example, have churches in Little Rock taken real meaningful steps to apologize and begin the real task of integration? Ironically, churches in the United States continue to remain largely segregated…perhaps the one institution the civil rights movement was not able to transform! That is the irony of it all.

We are spending the night in Nashville.

With Dr. Minniejean Brown Trickery in Little Rock 9 Visitor Center, AK

Dr Minniejean Brown Trickery standing alongside her statue at the Arkansas State Capital

Central High, Little Rock (AK)