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A Member of the Little Rock Nine Discusses Her Struggle to Attend Central High

The National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, has an exhibition called “American Stories.” A recent donation to the museum came from Minnijean Brown Trickey, who presented the Smithsonian with her high school graduation dress, a graduation program from the New Lincoln School in New York, and a suspension slip from her previous high school. And that’s where Trickey’s story begins, of how she became a part of history in 1957 as one of the Little Rock Nine.    

Although about 80 African-American students had been approved by the Little Rock School Board to transfer to Central the following year, the number dwindled to 10 after the students were told they couldn't participate in extracurricular activities, their parents were in danger of losing their jobs, and there was a looming threat of violence. The parents of a tenth student, Jane Hill, decided not to allow their daughter to return after the mob scene on the first day.

According to Trickey, her real motivation for attending Central was that it was nine blocks from her house and she and her two best friends, Melba Pattillo and Thelma Mothershed would be able to walk there.

“The nine of us were not especially political,” she says. “We thought, we can walk to Central, it’s a huge, beautiful school, this is gonna be great,” she remembers.

“I really thought that if we went to school together, the white kids are going to be like me, curious and thoughtful, and we can just cut all this segregation stuff out,” she recalls. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

It took the 101st Airborne to get the students into the high school, but staying there was just as difficult. Read Trickey’s story at Smithsonian.


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