In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate is not equal” in the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ordering schools nationwide to desegregate. In response, whites in Indianola, Mississippi formed a Citizens’ Council, which spread across the South. Three years later, the Little Rock school board ordered Central High School to desegregate. The NAACP recruited nine Black teenagers, who, with the backing of their parents, volunteered to be the first Black students to integrate the school.
The Citizens’ Council of Little Rock, backed by the KKK, recruited white high school students to actively drive the Black students out. By the time James Lawson traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958 to meet the nine youth, they had endured months of verbal and physical harassment. Lawson asked them what the NAACP had told them during their recruitment, and they responded, “We were told not to fight back.”
James Lawson then said, “What they actually mean is that you fight back, but not by imitating the enemies who are trying to drive you out of the school. You fight back, but not by doing what they are doing to you. You fight back with your mind, your wits, your courage, and that fight will be more effective than if you swung your fist at them.”
Tomorrow I’ll write about how one of the students used her “mind, wits and courage” to do just that.
And then I’ll return to writing about Diane Nash!