Throughout the American South, of many Negro's childhood, the system of segregation determined the patterns of life. Blacks attended separate schools from whites, were barred from pools and parks where whites swam and played, from cafes and hotels where whites ate and slept. On sidewalks, they were expected to step aside for whites. It took a brave person to challenge this system, when those that did suffered a white storm of rancour. Affronting this hatred, with assistance from the Federal Government, were nine courageous school children, permitted into the 1957/8 school year at Little Rock Central High. The unofficial leader of this band of students was Ernest Green.
The children of Little Rock Arkansas never doubted that, like every other southern Negro, they lived in an unequal, segregated society. In the twentieth century, the black population of Arkansas still endured periodic beatings, arrests and daily racial taunts at the slightest provocation. However, the law was turning in the Negroes favour. Various organisations including the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and Negro produced newspapers fought for an end to racial discrimination and for the advancement of the black population. "They began to assert political and economic pressure" against citizens, organisations and governments violating human rights. The victory in the 1954 Brown Vs Board of Education case granted the Federal Government the ability to pass school integration laws permitting Negro children to attend white schools. This was "a great forward step in achieving true equality" . Virgil Blossom, of the Little Rock school board, consented to nine black children integrating into Central High on September 4th 1957, 3 years after the United States Supreme Court decision.
Testament to his resilience and determination in the face of angry segregationists, Ernest assumed the role of head of his family at the age of sixteen, after his father's death in 1953. Ernest's mother, an elementary school teacher, and his younger brother Scott both respected this new allotment Ernest assumed at such a young age. His mother knew it was useless attempting to persuade the headstrong Ernest to reconsider attendance at Little Rock Central High School after he had been selected as one of the nine Negro children to attend. Students were selected based on adaptability, intelligence and health. The school board requested only intelligent students so that there was no backlash against integration. If one of the chosen students failed in their exams, the segregationists would declare integration a failure. Of all the children from the Horace Mann High School and Dunbar Junior High School, eighty signed up to attend Central High. After numerous interviews and exams, thirty-two children were considered eligible . This number was reduced to nine after the ramifications of black students entering an all white high school prompted many of them to decline the transition into an arena where mental and physical violence would be forced upon them daily. Understanding this it is clear that Ernest Green is an extraordinary young man from the outset. He obviously possessed remarkable intelligence and defended a strong belief in his intentions for relocating in his pivotal senior year. All of the children that had reached this far into the selection would have sensed that they were a part of an uncertain, yet historic situation, that would further Negro rights.
Ernest Green was well aware of the discrimination present amongst segregationists in Little Rock. Since the age of eleven he had worked during his holidays and adapted well with his fellow white workers. Working as a stockboy, cleaner and part-time salesperson, Ernest was proficient in his duties, until he tasted the sting of prejudice when customers complained about his position in the store. Segregationists may not have accepted such a...
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Poston, Ted, New York Post – Daily Magazine, 21st October 1957.
Poston, Ted, New York Post, 24th October 1957.
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