Civil Rights Activist
On September 4th, 1957 Elizabeth Eckford took the bus alone to Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas where she and 8 other brave African American teenagers were scheduled to attend an all-white school for the first time. This was supposed to be the day that Arkansas’s long history of racial segregation in schools ended. Rather than being welcomed to the school and supported, she was surrounded by an angry mob of 400 people yelling racial slurs at her and calling for her lynching. She did not waiver, she continued to walk steadily toward her goal. They chanted, “Two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate.” She did not allow their hate to stop her. An adult spat in her face, and when Elizabeth approached the members of the National Guard, they barred her from entering the school with their rifles. She was only 15 years old and alone, but her brave face appeared in newspapers across the United States and the world, this image helped spark change.
Ultimately, this group of teenagers known as “Little Rock Nine”, would alter history forever. Over the following weeks and months, they fought alongside the NAACP for the rights of every American student to attend desegregated public schools. This fight was based on the 1954 landmark decision in the case of ‘Brown vs. the Board of Education’, which determined that separate public schools for African-American and caucasian students was unconstitutional.
Elizabeth Eckford went on to earned a BA in history from Central State University in Ohio. She has worked as a history teacher, newspaper writer, welfare worker, a probation officer in Little Rock, and an information specialist in the United States Army. She has received numerous awards and honors for her courage and heroism, including the United States Congressional Gold Medal, which is the country’s highest civilian award.
“True reconciliation can occur only when we honestly acknowledge our painful, but shared, past.” – Elizabeth Eckford.
Photo by Will Counts, 1957. This image was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for Photography.