Thursday, November 3, 2011

When the personal is public

35. Warriors Don't Cry. The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals

The About: Beals was one of the nine black children to first attempt integration at a white high chool after the integration ruling in 1958. In her memoir, Beals goes back in time to the shoes of her teenager self to reflect on how stupendously close she got to losing her life, almost daily, simply due to ignorance and hatred.

Thoughts: Some autobiographies written by non-writers can be absolutely terrible because they cannot let go of a single detail, but Warriors Don't Cry has a fresh outlook on an extremely historical event. Each sentence stresses that Melba is like any other teenager who worries about boys, doesn't quite understand why she can't go to the community center in the evening to hang out with her friends (because an angry white mob would kill her, that's why) or who accidentally has a big mouth and tells the reporters something she maybe shouldn't have.

Because of how incredibly normal she is, it is especially hard to grasp that grown white women would break through barriers and run after her, genuinely wanting to kill her just for attending the same school as their kids, or how a boy would throw acid in her eyes in the middle of the school halls, and the head master wouldn't do a thing because the only adult witnessing the situation was a soldier who was hired as Melba's bodyguard. Perhaps the most sickening part of the story is--if the constant physical abuse during each school day isn't enough for the reader--the conversation Melba overhears in the teachers' lounge when the protesting crowd outside is ready to break in to the school: they actually contemplate for a moment about sacrificing one of the black kids to the crowd (to be hanged!) in order to get the others out alive.

I don't even understand how she stayed mentally sane. Imagine going to school every day, where other kids would kick you, hit you and try to burn you alive--and the school staff thinks that you actually deserve this treatment. A year of that? Incredible.

This was 1958. Not that long ago. That's perhaps the scariest thought while reading this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment