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Just Us in Davis: Little Rock Nine hero to celebrate with Davis youths

Celebrate

What: Race and Social Justice 10th anniversary reunion

When: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30

Where: Brunelle Performance Hall, Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St.

Info: Contact Jann Murray-García at [email protected] to RSVP for or to co-sponsor the event

“… one of the boys passed my seat and kicked my ankle. I had to bite my lip to keep from crying aloud at the pain. My ankle was swelling fast. I waited until everyone left the classroom before I tried to walk. Limping as best I could, I struggled to get up the stairs to my next class. I couldn’t be late for fear of getting a tardy slip. We were well aware that school officials were waiting for any excuse to kick us out.”
— From “Warriors Don’t Cry,” by Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals

Sometimes when we think about history, we focus on events, dates, accomplishments, tragedies. Our concept of history may be one-dimensional, captured in a single photograph or exam question.

We rarely get to identify with the daily process that American heroes endured for us to be able to experience today the America that has been re-created and re-created since its inception in the 1700s.

If ever there was a memoir, readable by our tweens, teens and young adults, a memoir that captures history as a long process of heroic patience, of strategizing to get through the day with dignity, and of courageously deciding to return the next day, it is Melba Pattillo Beals’ “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir Of The Battle To Integrate Little Rock’s Central High.”

I was surprised as I read Dr. Beals’ memoir, that even with the U.S. Army 101st Airborne ordered by President Eisenhower after Arkansas National Guard blocked the black students’ entrance, these nine teenagers still had to endure the torturous, inhumane treatment by Little Rock adults and students, relentlessly, daily. Without fighting back.

As a 16-year-old in her junior year, Dr. Beals was subjected to and survived the throwing of acid in her eyes by a fellow student; the threat of a lynch mob’s rope; kicks; punches; and being thrown up against lockers. She had to wear Band-Aids on her heels from “the heel walkers the day before,” and endured urine sprayed on her seat and clothes, and “smelly liquids” showered over her.

Often, these acts of terror were perpetrated in plain sight of the ambivalent Arkansas National Guard, assigned to protect The Nine after the 101st Airborne left. The quote above is from deep in the school year, when it looked like The Nine were going to complete the year, with senior Ernest Green actually graduating from Central High at the end of the year.

Dr. Beals and the remaining students would have continued on the next year, but Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus closed Central High, rather than have the black students return after their successful, truly triumphant, albeit torturous year. In fact, all across the South, white parents and educators kept their children home, opened up private schools or moved out of town, believing that being in class with black children would threaten their own children’s academic progress and racially segregated way of life.

Please. The story of Dr. Beals and her fellow heroes is not a story of white guilt, but of American patriotism and profound struggle and triumph over “un-Americanness.” There is so much here for all children to own and imitate constructively as potential allies stepping out of the bystander role.

In fact, in the acknowledgment of “Warriors Don’t Cry,” along with many others, Dr. Beals thanks “those very few nameless (white) Central High students who dared to smile or cast a pleasant glance or refused to torture us.” Among others, she also thanks the white Arkansas gentleman who paid for a newspaper ad that read, “When hate is released and bigotry finds a voice, God help us all.”

After Central High closed, a white couple, George and Carol McCabe, Quaker activists for social justice, allowed Dr. Beals to finish her senior year in high school in Santa Barbara. Dr. Beals left her own, strong, multi-generational family of change-makers in Little Rock. George (one of the founders of Sonoma State College) and Carol incorporated Dr. Beals into their family as one of their own.

This is a story of such beautiful, authentic complexity, socially, psychologically (i.e., resilience, mob mentality) and politically. And Dr. Beals tells it so eloquently. She did not publish the book until 1994, undermined by episodes that can only be labeled post-traumatic stress, as she fought through the painful flashbacks in writing this important American treasure.

There is so much in this story we can celebrate with all of our older children and students and with one another as we begin the 2014-15 school year in Davis. As Ms. McCabe stated, quoted in her May 6, 2014, obituary (The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa), “Everybody was so totally moved by the image of how nine kids led this nation to find a solution to this incredible problem of segregation. These were the children who led the nation into seeing another way so that all people could have an equal education.”

Dr. Beals will join us as the keynote speaker for the 10th anniversary/reunion celebration, planned for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, at the Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St. It will celebrate our own Davis students leading in the ongoing work of eliminating racial and class disparities in discipline patterns, class assignment and achievement within our “high-performing” schools.

Standing against the student-perpetrated hate crimes of the early 2000s in Davis, diverse cohorts of Student Research Scholars advocated for the Race and Social Justice Class in U.S. History at Davis High School. This A-G course is one of fewer than five options statewide that meets California’s U.S. history requirement.

I reported earlier this year that there are currently eight course sections of RSJ. Astoundingly, because of student demand, there will be nine sections next year! Our students aren’t just studying history in Davis; they are making it.

Let’s kick off the year, refreshing our community memory and thanking these former Student Research Scholars and RSJ students. We would like this event to be free, with lunch, especially for all students and teachers. If you or your business would like to co-sponsor and be listed as such, please contact me at [email protected] You can RSVP to this email, so we can plan for lunch, etc.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @DavisEquityReunion, as I share details and updates on how youths, educators and community have made history together.

The unabridged version of “Warriors Don’t Cry” ($15.99) can be purchased at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis. Owner Alzada Knickerbocker will sell the books at the event for Dr. Beals to sign. If you mention the Race and Social Justice class or this reunion, 20 percent of proceeds will go to the Aug. 30 event and the RSJ class.

— Jann Murray-García, M.D., M.P.H., is a Davis parent and pediatrician. She shares this monthly column with Jonathan London. Reach her at [email protected]

Jann L. Murray-Garcia

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