First Day of Integration at Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas

by Leigh-Ann Wager

Sources

Background Information

On the first day of integration at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, angry mobs protested outside the school. Eight of the Little Rock Nine, the African American students chosen to integrate the all-white Central High, met up beforehand so that they could have a security escort through the mob scene. One student, Elizabeth Eckford, did not receive the message about meeting beforehand. Unaware of the mobs and the meeting, she went to school on her own. She was immediately surrounded by an angry crowd. She tried to enter the school several times but soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard prevented her from crossing their line and entering the building. She was forced to continue through the crowds. This famous photo was taken showing a brave Elizabeth Eckford and an angry Hazel Bryan (now Massery) behind her. A kind white woman from the crowd helped Elizabeth to a bus bench and onto a local bus.

The second document in this lesson is a firsthand account from Elizabeth Eckford about her experiences that was published in Daisy Bates’ book The Long Shadow. This moving excerpt will draw students into the moment captured in the powerful photograph.

Questions for Discussion

Photo

  1. What are your observations about the photo?
  2. What do you think Elizabeth was feeling at the moment the picture was taken?
  3. Images of the events at Central High were documented on television and in the print media. Do you think that the media coverage had an influence on the events at Central High? In what way?
  4. Did the media make integration easier or more challenging for the Little Rock Nine? Explain your viewpoint.
  5. Have you ever been influenced by a group to do or say something that you wouldn’t have said or done if you were on your own? Explain the circumstances and situation.

Book Excerpt

  1. How do you think that you would have reacted if you were in the same situation as Elizabeth? As Hazel Bryan?
  2. Why do you think the guards acted the way they did?
  3. How do you think Hazel feels now about this photograph? (An excellent follow-up article that addresses this question is in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 23, 1997.)

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