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Kossacks of a certain age may remember September 1957, when nine black students were escorted to the “whites only” Little Rock Central High School in compliance with the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. The ensuing crisis filled the national and international news for weeks. Who can forget the iconic photograph of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, delicate as a summer blossom in her freshly ironed dress, clutching her schoolbooks as she walked past a crowd of bigots screaming at her?

But there’s another Little Rock story, one that was never told. To read it, please follow me below the fold.

In September 1957 I was 13, a ninth-grader at West Side Junior High School.  My family lived in a duplex on Summit Street in Little Rock, three blocks from Central High. My father, Edward, worked for the Associated Press as an editor; my mother, Anne, like many women of the time, was a homemaker. My younger sister was a student at Centennnial Elementary, three blocks from our house in the other direction from Central High. Like many teenagers I was too preoccupied with the day-to-day business of getting through the school week to pay much attention to current affairs.  However, “current affairs” impinged themselves on the notice of all West Side students during recess on September 4, 1957, the first day of school.

We saw a convertible racing past our playground, with boys in the front seat and girls sitting on the folded-back roof, yelling “Two-four-six-eight, we ain’t gonna integrate!” This was followed by several other cars filled with students yelling the same words.

Soon after that armed troops arrived in the neighborhood. President Eisenhower had sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to enforce the law of the land.

Suddenly, my sister and I weren’t allowed to walk to school any more. My parents, who did not own a car, arranged for neighbors to drive us to school and back for the duration of the crisis. Outside the classroom my fellow students and I discussed the situation.  Of course, they were all for segregation. Having been brought up in a household of freethinkers and having lived overseas for five of my 13 years, I didn’t share the prejudices of my classmates.

Nor did my parents. As my Uncle Jack, a retired journalist, wrote in his memoirs,

One bit of news that never made the national wires about Little Rock would no doubt have surprised most Americans. I know it surprised me in my first week in town. I went home with Ed one day after work as his wife, Anne, had invited me to dinner.  As we walked toward his front door a black postman was entering the house next door.

“Hello, Ed,” the postman said, waving.

“Hi, Bill,” Ed called back.

I asked, “Does he live there?” and Ed said yes, that such neighborhood integration was not all that uncommon.

“Then what in the hell are people here so upset about?  If they can live next door to blacks why can’t they go to school with them?”

“Who knows?” Ed shrugged.

It was one of those strange contradictions that I have never heard adequately explained.

The Johnsons were indeed our neighbors for four years, until we moved to another section of Little Rock. My mother and I used to chat with Mrs. Johnson as we hung our clothes to dry in the backyard.  On the other side of the fence, Mrs. Johnson was doing the same thing. As a young teenager I was discovering that I liked to bake. I wanted to be just like my mother. Every time I made a cake and frosted it, I would cut two pieces, put them on a plate, and rush next door to the Johnsons’ house.  “Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Johnson,” I would say excitedly, “look what I just made!  Please try my cake!”

Mother, despite her upbringing in a part of the country not noted for liberal tendencies, was incapable of harboring race prejudice. To her, human beings were as beautiful and varied as seashells on a beach: they were people whose life stories she wanted to hear. When Mother left Texas she also left the church behind.  Religion continued to fascinate her, however, so despite her newfound atheism she investigated various faiths.  In Little Rock she joined the Bahai’s, who held meetings at members’ houses in the Little Rock area.

These meetings were my only chance to meet and talk to black children of my own age.  My sister Mary, three years younger than I, chased around with the other children, while I, more sedate, simply chatted.

Edward begged us not to reveal such activities to anyone outside our family.  “As an AP reporter I have to interview both sides,” he said. “On one day I may have to interview Daisy Bates and the next day I have to talk to someone on the other side. If either side knew what you were up to, it would make things difficult for me.”

Not that he didn’t take sides unobtrusively, in his own way.  One day a young black reporter visited the AP offices, desperate to find a place to write his stories for The Minneapolis Tribune and a telephone to call them in. No one wanted to rent him any space. My father showed him to a desk with a telephone and a typewriter where he could work. Many years later that reporter, who had become the head of the U.S. Information Agency, remembered my father: when Edward came to Washington, DC, to look for a government job, Carl Rowan promised to expedite his application.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous diary how Edward single-handedly brought about the demise of the Arkansas Minutemen, a segregationist organization.  Here’s my Uncle Jack’s memory of that incident:

He [Ed] and all of us strived to give both integrationists and segregationists a fair hearing.  This is a good time to say that if you are a reporter, your duty is to gather what facts you can, verify them the best you can, and report both sides of any controversy.  Fairness and objectivity, not opinion or bias, should be your guiding principle.

…To give you an example of being fair—scrupulously fair—to all, a small group of segregationists who called themselves the “Minutemen,” sent us a press release announcing their formation and denouncing a list of books as “subversive” and “dangerous” to America.  Ed glanced over the list and then suddenly sat bolt upright in his chair—because the fourth book named on the list was The Diary of Anne Frank. How in the world could a book about a young Jewish girl who died in a concentration camp possibly be offensive?  

But Ed didn’t argue with the Minutemen, he treated them fairly, quickly knocking out a straightforward story on the group—and noting in the lead that it denounced The Diary of Anne Frank.  As he handed the copy to the teletype operator, I noticed a sly smile on his face.  It wasn’t long before I knew why.

The story loosed a firestorm of protest against the Minutemen. State newspapers and broadcasters, politicians and the general public—including segregation sympathizers—cursed the Minutemen, called them Nazis and demanded that they be driven out of Arkansas.  Shaken representatives of the group actually came to the AP bureau later and pleaded with Ed to do a follow-up story that would put them in a better light.  Ed smiled again and said, “Sorry, we covered you already.”  The Minutemen sank from sight.  

Meanwhile, Mother continued to investigate the subject of religion.  She became friends with Captain Roberts, an attractive young black woman in the Salvation Army. Captain Roberts came to our house for dinner on Friday nights, and she and Mother would argue for hours about the Bible and the meaning of different texts. Both enjoyed the exchanges but sometimes the captain despaired of Mother’s lack of belief.  Once she said to me, “You’re the only one I see any hope for!” because at the time I regularly attended church.

When Mother was recovering from an operation and therefore unable to do much housework, she employed people to help her. In the Little Rock of the 1950s domestic help was provided by black women. So far from behaving like the nasty white women in the popular novel, The Help, Mother became friends with the women who helped her, exchanging family stories and recipes.

One day it happened that I boarded a city bus and spied Betty (not her real name), a woman who had helped my mother, sitting in one of the seats.  Hailing her with delight, I went to sit beside her. I noticed she looked uncomfortable but in my teenaged self-absorption I didn’t stop to think why she might have looked that way. I merely thought, “Oh, good, here's someone I know—now I’ll have someone to talk to!”

Sixty-odd years later, I can only hope she didn’t encounter any unpleasantness because of that.

In 1958, in order to save the pure, lily-white children of Little Rock from sitting in the same classroom with black students, Governor Orval Faubus closed the Little Rock public schools.  The seggies were pleased, but not so the students who were relying on attending accredited schools so they could get into college. For one semester I simply stayed at home. My father gave me a reading list and quizzed me on the books when he returned home in the evenings. (I liked most of the books, which ranged from The Odyssey to The Decameron, but fell asleep over three different translations of The Iliad, which I hated.)  For the second semester of that year I attended a makeshift high school in a Baptist church.  Fearful that the schools would remain closed during my junior year of high school, my parents scraped together the money to send me to St. Mary’s Academy, a private Catholic high school for girls. A couple of girls from Trinity Cathedral, where I went to church, attended along with me.

Five mornings a week we St. Mary’s students would get on the city bus to travel to school. At almost every stop, traditionally built black women, already looking tired from the humid Arkansas heat, would climb on to the bus too.  I’d immediately spring up and ask, “Ma’am, would you like to sit down?”

“Oh, thank you, honey,” would come the reply. “Would you like me to hold your books?”  

I wasn’t the only St. Mary’s student to give up her seat—we all did. We had quite a pleasant time chatting as the bus trundled down the public highway.

The following year I briefly attended Little Rock Hall High School. There were several black students in my senior class, and that was the only time I ever attended an integrated public school in this country. In October 1960 my family moved from Little Rock to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In 1989 on our way to Texas to spend Christmas with relatives, my husband, teenaged son, and I stopped in Little Rock.  Central High was still a beautiful school, and Trevor, my son, was fascinated by the architecture. The neighborhood I used to live in looked sad, with many boarded-up houses. West Side Junior High School was no longer a school but a community center. We spent the night at the North Little Rock Holiday Inn and ate dinner at the Inn’s restaurant. When I noticed that many black diners were being waited on by white servers, I realized that change had indeed come to Little Rock.

If you’ve borne with me thus far, thank you for reading this. I wanted to tell those who might doubt it that not everyone in the South was a narrow-eyed, mean-mouthed bigot and that change does happen, however slowly.

I only wish change didn’t involve pain and suffering on the part of the people who bring it about.

Originally posted to Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  T&R (15+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the personal history.

    "Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand."  ~ Atticus Finch

    White-collar conservatives flashing down the street, pointing their plastic finger at me..

    by BOHICA on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 05:21:01 AM PDT

  •  Diana, this is a wonderful diary! (11+ / 0-)

    You simply must write more! Thanks for this perspective for those of us who lived "up north" with only television's glimpses to inform us.

    Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

    by cassandracarolina on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 05:45:09 AM PDT

  •  BTW, for those who might be wondering, I have full (10+ / 0-)

    permission from my Uncle Jack to use these quotes.  I called him last week and he assured me I was free to quote anything I liked.

    I'm sending him a copy of this, of course.  :)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:07:22 AM PDT

  •  A difference between North and South (12+ / 0-)

    Southern cities were often integrated in housing patterns, with blacks and whites living in the same neighborhoods.  I discovered this in the Navy when I was stationed for a short time in Pensacola.

    But in the Baltimore in which I grew up in the 50's and 60's, the white grownups could not conceive of living on the same block with a single black family.  Crooked real estate moguls took advantage of this prejudice by "blockbusting", giving generous terms for a black family to move into an all white block in an all white neighborhood, then scaring the white families into panic selling, selling their homes at a song and overcharging the blacks who would later buy.  Often the incoming black man of the house was a doctor or professor, but it made no difference - he would lose his new neighbors in months if not weeks.

    Many square miles of Baltimore changed from all white to all black, sometimes in just a few months.  My mother I must confess succumbed to this panic.  I remember walking around my soon to be abandoned neighborhood and seeing For Sale signs in front of every one of the row houses, for block after block and block after block.  The law of supply and demand can tell you what prejudice and greed was doing to the price of real estate.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:10:16 AM PDT

    •  OMG, Navy Vet! (4+ / 0-)

      That's really sad.  My son lived in Baltimore in the 90's and when we visited him we found it as you said.

      Prejudice is so ridiculous. I'm so glad it's disappearing--even though the pace of change sometimes seems glacial.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:15:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Also different experiences based upon gender (15+ / 0-)

      in the South.  I didn't realize this until listening to my parents talk to each other while attending a July 4 celebration with them in our small town back in the 1990's.

      My mother was observing all the children playing together, black and white as well as several interracial teenage couples.  She turned to my father and asked something along the lines of, when we were teenagers (they both graduated from Southern public high schools in 1957) did you ever imagine seeing such a thing?  She was pleased by this.

      My father was rather nonplussed and he shrugged, "sure," "why not"?.  

      Both my mother and I looked at him strangely. (My father had never been a great advocate for diversity, unlike my mother).  He then explained that as a kid he had always interacted with the black boys in town.  They may not have gone to the same school, or gone to the same churches, but they all lived around each other and every day after school, they all played baseball together.

      I looked at my mother and asked her, "you didn't play with black girls when you were a kid?" She said no that she didn't know any growing up.  Still staring at my father as if she didn't believe him.

      "That's girls for you," my father said and he smirked as both of us, "clique-y".   (My father lived his entire adult life in a household of females).

      I was completely floored by this conversation between my parents, and it taught me something I had not known nor even would have suspected about both life in small town North Carolina in the 50's and my parents as individual people.  It also taught me quite a bit about humility.    

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:09:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your comment, gilas girl! (7+ / 0-)

        Isn't it strange that more people don't know these stories? We have such a one-sided view of the South that we tend to dismiss everyone living there as being prejudiced.

        Even I tend to forget there aren't monolithic blocks of any given group.  There are always going to be people that go against the prevailing point of view.

        "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

        by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:25:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I too played with black children (4+ / 0-)

        who lived a few blocks from me. And my father had a scrap yard, and there were black families in that neighborhood, and I'd play with the kids when I was at the scrap yard.

      •  I don't quite understand what it is you learned (5+ / 0-)

        Please forgive me this question. Do you see the experience of segregation to be different for girls and boys?

        Your comment reminds me about my mother living in Berlin with her parents in the 1933 in a famous suburb where she visited a girls' school with over 50 percent of the girls being Jewish.  

        My mother's best girl friend was a Jewish girl. They played for hours and hours together in her girl friends' beautiful house (my mother's family was rather poor) with dolls. Shortly after Hitler came to power, almost all of the Jewish girls of her school class disappeared, a mass exodus of Jewish families from Berlin to other countries.

        My mother remembered that she once saw her girlfriend on the other side of a street with a yellow star. Both girls were asked by their accompanying "gouvernantes" to not wave at each other in the public and to pretend they wouldn not know each other.

        My mother's mother was a somewhat supporter of Hitler, at least she was impressed by his organization League of German Girls and was involved in their meetings.

        My mother's father was not a supporter of Hitler and wasn't that much impressed with his wife's inclinations and very worried about his teenage son, who together with. one of my mother's sisters both were quite enthusiastic teenage supporter of Hitler. My mother herself was on her father's side.

        Not knowing if her girl friend survived or were sent to the concentration camps somehow plagued my mother's conscience into her old age. She asked me til her death in 2005, I should try to find out if she emigrated to the US. I never was able to find that out for her.

        Tell me what I should learn from that? Humility? Humility of what?

        And apologies ... today I am living much in the past and constantly go down memory lane. I hope you don't get me wrong with my comment. It's just so much going through my mind.

        •  I learned that the assumptions (4+ / 0-)

          I had had about life in the segregated South were just that -- assumptions, and that the heavy lines in the sand about how attitudes work weren't nearly as fixed as I had believed them to be.  I also learned a whole lot more about my father than I had ever been exposed to before, as a child I had always just assumed my father to be a bigot and not much more than that.

          This is a purely subjective experience, so I can't and won't presume to generalize from it, or make sense of your own experiences.  But it did teach me that even the most clear of human experiences can have multiple aspects and that if I want to understand human experiences and a fully range of their consequences, nuance is important.  That has been a helpful lesson, beyond the tale my parents told me.    

          Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

          by a gilas girl on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 09:34:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, I fully understand now, thank you, (3+ / 0-)
            But it did teach me that even the most clear of human experiences can have multiple aspects and that if I want to understand human experiences and a fully range of their consequences, nuance is important.  
            Very true. And very important. And one has to be grateful (and humble) if one gets the chance to be exposed to glimpses of those human experiences and recognize their complexity.

            Thank you, Gilas Girl.

            •  My grandmother. (4+ / 0-)

              My grandmother was born in 1891 in rural Mississippi. When I was little she would tell me about the black man, Sam, who worked for her father on the farm, and about Sam's son Marion, who was my grandmother's best childhood friend. I remember Ma (as I called her) telling me what a good, kind man Sam was, and she obviously loved him and Marion.

              I never heard my grandmother use any word for black people other than "nigger" or sometimes "nigra."

              When I was in third grade (fall of 1969), my school system in Florida integrated, and I had my first African-American teacher. When my grandmother found out my teacher was black, she broke down in tears.

              I also heard a story about my grandmother from my aunt. One of their white neighbors killed his wife, blamed it on a black man who lived nearby, and bribed two white witnesses to back him up. My grandmother somehow made the witnesses feel so guilty or afraid that they confessed in court, the black man went free, and the murdering husband went to prison. This was probably in the 1920s or 1930s, still in rural Mississippi. It was practically unheard-of for a black person accused of a crime to be acquitted.

              What I draw from this is that people have an amazing ability to compartmentalize--to believe contradictory things, and not to realize the depth of our self-contradiction. We always have to be on guard against our own hypocrisy, our own willingness to believe what is convenient.

               

              "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

              by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 11:12:35 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                HeyMikey, Carol in San Antonio

                for an even more compelling example.  I find that lesson to be enormously valuable, one of the most important things I've learned.  Every time that lesson is emphasized and reinforced, my appreciation of its power grows.

                Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

                by a gilas girl on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 11:32:55 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you so much for sharing this (3+ / 0-)

                I fully understand what you say in your last paragraph. I think millions of Germans lived under these emotional mental status, so much so that I ask myself if it is an inate mechanism of self-preservation vis a vis facing the (imoral) facts of life you can't escape from having been part of.

                Sometimes it seems to me it is more than just the willingness to believe what is convenient, it might sometimes as well be the incapability to survive the pain related to the "evil" we were involved in that make us compartementalize by default as a mechanism of self-protection. But ... I am not sure. The same might be so for obvious "amnesia" of things you couldn't have forgotten in earnest.

              •  A most interesting story, HeyMikey (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                HeyMikey, texasmom

                Thank you for sharing it. I'm glad your grandmother helped that poor man to go free. What a narrow escape he had!

                "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

                by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:53:42 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  This was also the pattern (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa

      in New York City, where I grew up.  I lived in a neighbborhood in transistion from Jewish/Italian to black/Puerto Rican, so we had all four groups, but so many families were moving to Westchester County.

      Met Life had some upper-middle class apartment neighborhoods that were all white - the one in the Bronx was Parkchester.  After a lawsuit, they responded by building another development - in Harlem!

      Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

      by ramara on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 04:32:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you, Joy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson

    Glad you liked it.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:17:46 AM PDT

  •  Thank you, Rescue Rangers (7+ / 0-)

    for promoting this diary to "Community Spotlight."  It's an honor I appreciate a lot.  :)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:26:51 AM PDT

  •  recc'd for the most poetic line I ever read here (8+ / 0-)

    "To her, human beings were as beautiful and varied as seashells on a beach..."

    "Democracy is only real if we all participate" -- Bea Bookler, 94 year-old voter disenfranchised by Voter-ID

    by 8ackgr0und N015e on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 07:38:10 AM PDT

  •  Little Rock refugee (9+ / 0-)

    I was living in Wewoka, Okla. at that time, when the Little Rock schools were forced to integrate. I remember a highschool girl moving to my town to live with relatives, and the newspaper did a big story about how she had to flee Little Rock because of the integration going on there (Wewoka did not integrate its public schools until about 10 years LATER). The girl from Little Rock was called "the Little Rock refugee," as if she had escaped some kind of war zone. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't; but her parents did not want her to attend an integrated school. I wonder where she is now and how she feels about her refugee status?

    •  Oh, that's so sad--and that term was such a (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chira2, Carol in San Antonio

      misnomer!

      I've read tons of Holocaust literature about real refugees and what they went through.  Going to another state to live with relatives is such a flimsy excuse for "refugee" status.

      I hope she feels ashamed of what her parents did.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:01:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My Mother (11+ / 0-)

    My mother was a senior at Central High in 1957 and lived the next block over from Central High on Schiller Street.

    Third youngest of 11 children, her father (my Grandfather) was Little Rock's "ragman". He would drive his truck through the neighborhoods of Little Rock buying/collecting old clothes and bedsheets from the housewives.

    My Grandmother would wash them, cut them up, bundle them so my Grandfather sell them to gas stations as oil rags. They raised a family of 11 kids doing this, along with hauling off old appliances, lawnmowers, tools and the like, that he would then repair and re-sell. Black families were the largest portion of his customers for those things.

    During summers, my Mom would to ride with him on his rounds, often into the black neighborhoods. My grandfather was a kind and generous man who opposed segregation. My mother shared his view. I know that they didn't do any overt activist work, but the family did oppose the policies and were shamed by what was happening.

    The next year, when they shuttered Central High, my mother's little brother and sister were shipped out to California to go to school, living with an aunt and uncle.

    It is a shameful part of Little Rock's history. There is an excellent National Park Service museum about the whole Central High crisis a block north of Central High that I have been fortunate to do some work for over the past several years.

    http://www.nps.gov/...

    Thanks for this diary. It made me think of my mother, dead now for 14 years.

    I'm not really FAT - it's an unfortunate childhood nickname.

    by FatPath on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:06:24 AM PDT

    •  Your parents sound like wonderful people (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey, Carol in San Antonio

      I'm glad the diary reminded you of your mother.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:28:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My Father (0+ / 0-)

      My father sold shmatas in Little Rock at the same time -- so your Grandfather wasn't the ONLY ragman in Little Rock!  I was born in August of 1957, and we lived on Wright Ave., within a mile or so of Central HS, before we moved to Cammack Village when i was very young.  I've been told that tanks rolled down Wright Ave. while i was outside in a crib.  My father's business was on Arch Street, down the hill from the old Fuller Hardware (remember the Fuller Brothers?), next to the viaduct and the train switching yard.  It turned into a rough neighborhood in later years, and his building was broken into and set fire once or twice at night, but no one ever bothered Dad (or anyone else in the building during the day).  I worked there summers and weekends when i was growing up, and never realized Simmons barbeque joint was just around the corner!  

  •  Remember those times well (11+ / 0-)

    I grew up in Forrest City, a little town 90 miles east of Little Rock. Had relatives in LR, and during the Central High crisis, my cousin lived with us so he could keep up with school.

    We were a Jewish family in a very racists, anti-Semitic community. I've told parts of this before here, but even white Christians who were trying to be "nice" didn't understand their own bigotry, as the lady who told my blond, fair-skinned father, "We think Jews are as good as white people."

    From the time I stepped into kindergarden class and had kids asking to see my horns and accusing me of drinking Christian baby's blood and killing Christ, I was a warrior against bigotry. FC was even closer to Memphis, only 30 miles, and it was amazing how many people living in FC and never went to Memphis, or any cosmopolitan place. Cities were full of evil and temptations.

    And in the segregated FC schools, they held religious assembly once a week (only protestant preachers, no Priests, Rabbis, Monks, or other religious leaders), they said a prayer to Jesus everyday in the cafeteria. I didn't realize the were sinning against my constitutional rights. Even teachers made anti-Semitic remarks to me.

    My mother too became friends with the black women who did domestic work at our home. Mom was very into health and organic food in the 1950s, when few people were. People called her a quack. Mary, the woman who worked for Mom at the time, got a huge goiter on her neck, and the doctor was going to operate.

    Mom was against the knife, because her leg had been butchered by an alcoholic doctor when she was 18, causing her to have a severe limp. She took Mary to Dr. Joe Nichols, the founder of one of the first natural foods associations in the U.S, who was in Texas. I still remember being in his office.

    He had box of cereal on his desk that was opened. He says to me, "See this cereal? It's been open on my desk for over a year. The maggots won't touch it. If they won't touch it, you shouldn't either. Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do."

    He put Mary on a diet of good flour, iodine, vegetables. Her goiter melted away. Her friends were very impressed, and Mom became like the shaman for them. Mom went to Memphis once a week, to a tiny healthfood store, the only one around, and she'd fill orders for Mary and her friends. Mom and Mary would sit for hours at the kitchen table going over articles Prevention Magazine and books by Adele Davis and planning meals and what to grow in the garden.

    After I graduated, the town finally got integrated, because the black community there (52% of the population) held an economic boycott and refused to buy in the town. And when 52% of the town ain't buying, even if it the poorest 52%, well it was very effective.

    So yes, I remember those days well. Thanks for your wonderful stories.

    •  Millie, thanks for your wonderful comment (4+ / 0-)

      This sounds as if it could be a diary too.  Yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism.  Funny, I never noticed it until I went north--in Little Rock they were so busy being anti-Catholic and anti-black they didn't seem to have time for anything else.

      There is much about those days I don't regret losing.  And as much as we decry TV, at least it opened a wider world to people.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:25:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  thank you from the younger generation who did not (4+ / 0-)

    experience Jim Crow and that kind of desegregation. I turned ten at the end of 1973 and I remember hearing stories and arguments and hard feelings flying overhead amongst the grown-ups in the family group as "forced busing" happened in Boston.
         I had grown up with the mis-impression that "Jim Crow" things occurred directly after the Civil War and must have faded far into the past until one day I realized it was still alive when my mother-in-law had been my age, having her first baby, my hubby. I had no idea it was still so close at hand, having grown up in the north-country where it simply wasn't an issue at hand.

  •  Great story Diana! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Carol in San Antonio, texasmom

    I was captivated.  It's always compelling to read or hear a story relating the personal consequences of some historic event.  The change in perspective from the stuffy, "hands-off" version told in history books brings some needed thought and engagement to the events.  

    Stories like yours remind us that ALL historic events are actually happening to REAL people who feel and think just like we do.

    Thanks for sharing your memories (and your family) with us!

    Metaphors be with you.

    by koosah on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 08:50:24 AM PDT

  •  I do remember those times, though I am (2+ / 0-)

    about 4 years younger than you, and lived them only through Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post covers. Thank you for this personal account. The images will stay with me. Excellent diary.

    "Maybe this is how empires die - their citizens just don't deserve to be world leaders anymore." -Kossack Puddytat, In a Comment 18 Sept 2011

    by pixxer on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 10:50:36 AM PDT

  •  My Uncle Stratton. (3+ / 0-)

    Stratton was a Presbyterian minister in the early 1960s, in Birmingham--then known as "Bombingham." He wanted to open his church to everyone, but the elders (elected governing board) insisted it be whites-only. So Stratton left, and found another church--in Morrillton, Arkansas, about 45 miles up the interstate from Little Rock.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 11:20:40 AM PDT

  •  Absolutely lovely and so nicely written. (2+ / 0-)

    I am glad to see this was rescued.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 11:30:42 AM PDT

  •  Nice story (2+ / 0-)

    I was at Central High earlier this year shooting a documentary on a related subject and was amazed to see that across the street from the school is a National Park museum about the integration struggle (I believe the school itself is a National Historic Site, even though it is still a functioning high school.) And interestingly enough, one of the rangers there is a young African-American woman who is the daughter of one of the Little Rock Nine. So times have changed.

    Love the sly way your father sabotaged the Minutemen with his cleverly written story! Thanks for the great diary.

  •  Little Rock (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa

    I remember those times. I was growing up in Wisconsin and was shocked by how white people treated anyone of color. I've never understood how the color of one's skin affects the person they are inside. But after I thought about it, I realized we northerners had people like that,too. Their targets were American indians. I thought of the British in India. I guess it's human nature to fear what we don't understand. I think that's so sad. I wonder if we humans will ever get over it.

  •  Thank you for this diary, and this lovely phrase: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa
    To her, human beings were as beautiful and varied as seashells on a beach: they were people whose life stories she wanted to hear.

    Have you noticed?
    Politicians who promise LESS government
    only deliver BAD government.

    by jjohnjj on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 03:47:53 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the great post (3+ / 0-)

    I am originally from Ohio and have lived in the Chicago area for over 20 years, but my wife and kids and I lived in Little Rock during 1980s when Clinton was governor. I find I miss the place a lot and enjoy going back to visit old friends. The problem is that it’s not on the way to any of our usual destinations.

    Since you attended St. Mary’s, you may remember how beautiful and welcoming the Hillcrest neighborhood is.  Take a late afternoon walk up or down Kavanaugh Blvd. and you will see what I mean.  Yes the museum near Central High is very nice. If you have not seen it, you should.  And the Clinton Library just east of downtown is fantastic.

    I wasn’t there in 1957, of course. But my impression was that much had changed. And it was not just that  the demographics had changed or that more people from outside Arkansas had migrated there. I had the sense that many people with roots in Little Rock had somehow been persuaded that there was a better way.  

    You probably remember that the Arkansas Gazette took a very strong editorial stand in favor of the integration of Central High.  The reaction at the time was harsh, but the paper survived.  In fact, until it was taken over by the right-wing Arkansas Democrat back in the 90s, the Arkansas Gazette was one of the most liberal daily newspapers west of the Mississippi. I think a case could be made that the paper played a role in changing many peoples’ minds ¬– gradually, of course.  

    However, while I think Little Rock is still good, it seems the rest of Arkansas has pushed back against the liberalizing trend that enabled folks like Dale Bumpers and Bill Clinton to get elected to office back in the 70s and 80s.  So we have seen the rise of idiots like Mike Huckabee (as governor) and mostly Republican congressional delegations since then.

    If someone had asked me in 1989 whether I thought Arkansas would be more blue or more red by 2012, I guess I would have said at least somewhat more blue, but certainly not as red as it is now. So that concerns me.

    •  Thank you, Conga, for your interesting (0+ / 0-)

      Comment.  Yes, we moved to the Hillcrest area, just off Kavanaugh Boulevard--in fact our house at No. 3 Fairfax Terrace was quite near the waterworks.  I loved that area.

      Too bad that Arkansas is so red.  They don't know what they're missing.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:32:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's been my experience (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa

    that wherever there is an "intractable"-seeming social problem, e.g., a bloody and protracted civil war, discrimination of one kind and another, there are powerful, shadowy interests directly invested in its perpetuation.

    So standing up to end social bias is really flouting those interests.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 06:41:28 PM PDT

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