It was 1957. The plan was for the nine students to enter the school together. When the plan changed, her family had no telephone, so 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford attempted to walk up to the doors of Little Rock Central High School alone.
“Two, four, six, eight,” the mob of proponents for segregation chanted. “We don’t want to integrate.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, Eckford will be speaking at Arkansas State University (ASU)-Beebe about her experiences during desegregation in the 1950s, detailed in her new book, “The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High.” Eckford is one of the surviving members of the Little Rock Nine, the group of nine African-American students that enrolled in Little Rock Central High School after the Brown vs. Board of Education court case ruled that desegregation was unconstitutional.
According to Keith Moore, ASU-Beebe’s executive director of marketing and public relations, the campus invited Eckford because of the important role she played in Arkansas history.
“We’ve never had anyone of that significance from a true, live historic event at ASU-Beebe,” Moore said.
Eckford will be part of ASU Beebe’s spring concert and lecture series. Through the series, the school hopes to promote thought-provoking conversations within the community.
“We are a bit separated from the capital city and all the events of 1957 in Central High, but it is still an integral part of Arkansas history,” Moore said.
As an alumnus of Central High School, sophomore Jamaerius Geter is a little less separated from the events of 1957.
“There were definitely times when you’d (think) … ‘Wow, I’m walking where they walked … I’m sitting in classrooms they sat in,’” Geter said.
Geter said organizations at Central High School worked to preserve the legacy of the Little Rock Nine, which helped him to understand the significance of the group.
“It’s always good to go back and look at where they were and where we are now,” Geter said.
Angela Adams, a social studies teacher at Harding Academy and adjunct professor of history at Harding, plans to attend the lecture. According to Adams, who has met every living member of the Little Rock Nine, the story of Central High School’s desegregation is one of heartbreak and intense bullying.
“The biggest number (of bullies) were the … ‘silent witnesses,’” Adams said. “They watched the horrible things happening to them and never did anything.”
Adams said that she discusses Eckford and the story of the Little Rock Nine with her students and sees valuable parallels within her own classroom. In Adams’ classroom, though her students live in a different time with different issues, studying the Little Rock Nine creates conversations about what bullying looks like today.
“It’s a civil rights event that they can really connect with,” Adams said.
Eckford will present at 1 p.m. in the Owen Center Auditorium. The lecture is free to the community, but Moore advised students planning to attend to arrive early due to the anticipated interest in the event. To reserve a seat, register at asub.ticketleap.com/elizabeth-eckford/ or call 501-882-8957 for more information.