Escorted by the Screaming Eagles of the United States Army 101st Airborne, those nine children shouldered the burden of integrating a then-segregated public school system for a state and a nation.
The United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education abolished racial segregation in public schools.
It was the actions of those nine black students that mobilized a nation to insure that access to a quality education was granted to all Americans.
They helped to define the civil rights movement. They became known as the “Little Rock Nine.”
Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed and Melba Pattillo Beals became a group that will forever be entrenched in American history.
I recently visited the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
I scoured the building in awe of the photos, memorabilia and memories pasted on the walls in the many exhibits.
However, it was a display on the “Little Rock Nine” that proved to be my personal highlight of the getaway.
I stood and watched a video that showed President Bill Clinton bestow the Congressional Medal of Honor on the eight surviving members of the historic group at a ceremony in 1999.
The medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. It is awarded to those who have provided outstanding service to the country.
Clinton himself expressed gratitude at the feat that changed the face of civil rights history when he spoke in Little Rock in 2007.
“The ‘Little Rock Nine,' by going through the doors of Central High School, opened the doors of equal opportunity and quality education to millions of others, and they opened the eyes and hearts of many of their fellow Americans who did not share their race, their oppression, or at the moment, their courage, including one 11 year-old white boy who lived only 50 miles away and was rooting for them,” Clinton said in his 2007 speech.
As I stood there stoically entrenched in the video, I noticed two women —one African-American and one white— were there watching along with me. Tears streamed down their faces.
Personally, I can't fathom the thought of having to go through what that group of nine people went through when they decided to scale those steps with a nation watching them while a group of people hurled words of hatred toward them. People spit on them. Students tortured them.
I can't even begin to think of an instance in my life that remotely resembled what they had to endure.
Brown said she was verbally confronted and abused.
“I was one of the kids ‘approved' by the school officials. We were told we would have to take a lot and were warned not to fight back if anything happened. One girl ran up to me and said, ‘I'm so glad you're here. Won't you go to lunch with me today?' I never saw her again,” Brown said in the book “One Girl's Little Rock Story.”
The book also talks about an incident where Brown was taunted by members of a group of white male students in the school cafeteria during lunch.
She dropped her lunch, a bowl of chili, onto the boys and was suspended for six days.
After another confrontation, Brown was suspended for the rest of the school year.
She later transferred to a high school in New York City.
Green eventually became the first African American to graduate from Central High School.
All political nonsense aside, America has made strides.
Clinton's role in recognizing the Little Rock Nine helped pave the way, not only for minorities in the education system, but for the education system of an entire nation.
The action from the “Little Rock Nine” had its drawbacks as well.
It crippled education in Arkansas for a whole year. Claiming that Little Rock had to assert their rights and freedom against the federal decision, in September 1958, Governor Orval Faubus signed acts that enabled him and the Little Rock School District to close all public schools.
With this bill signed, Faubus ordered the closure of all four public high schools, preventing both black and white students from attending school thus earning the closure “The Lost Year.”
Faubus' actions increased burden upon the teachers and the African-American community for that year.
Following school board reorganization, the teachers were all re-hired, Faubus was ousted and the Little Rock community set sail into the record books of eternity.
I will never be able to fully understand what happened that day in 1957.
I do know that it was a stark realization of what we, as African-American citizens, take for granted every day.
It should be a realization as Americans some of the things we take for granted every day.
Personally, I don't want to go back to 1957. I don't think I could take it.
After my revelations over my trip to Little Rock, the “Little Rock Nine” will forever be recognized as heroes. They blazed a trail that will never be covered. And, for that, I am forever indebted to and thankful for them.