February 28, 2013
By Antonio Harvey
Special to the NNPA from The Sacramento Observer
Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine students who desegregated Little Rock Arkansas’ Central High School in the 1950s, said she and her young civil rights counterparts indeed went through a tumultuous time. But she also expressed the vile and unpleasant harassment their parents had to suffer too in some aspects of the valiant move to desegregate the formerly all-White school. Brown Trickey’s parents, Willie and Imogene Brown, and the other Little Rock Nine’s matriarchs and patriarchs were “designated as the heroes of this,” Brown-Trickey, 71 told The Observer in a telephone interview this week.
Her father, an independent mason and landscaping contractor lost his business and didn’t get anymore work, she recalled.
“I think that happened with all the parents who were threatened with firings or were fired. There were hate calls all day and night,” she added.
The Little Rock Nine was the next step after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case, which held that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Brown-Trickey said 70 Black youth signed up to be the first students to integrate Little Rock High for the 1957-58 school year. Only 20 were selected by the school board, “but on the first day there were only nine of us,” she said. On early black-and-white television, the world watched as the Black youth, ages 14 and 15, faced constant verbal and physical harassment. However, between the Little Rock Nine and their parents, there were issues going on in the background no one knew about.
“While we’re trying to integrate the school, we didn’t tell our parents what was happening to us and they didn’t tell us what happening to them,” Brown-Trickey said.
“It was a way of survival that everybody participated in a certain way. But the parents are the real heroes because they knew it was hell.”
The 70 children who signed up to attend Little Rock High were not forced to sign up or pressed in any other way as some would imagine, Brown Trickey said. They signed up by choice and with courage. Despite their interests, the parents of the Little Rock Nine also knew that there would be a price to pay. That price, Brown-Trickey said, is truly where they became the nine youth’s heroes.
“I skipped home and told my mom, ‘oh I just signed up to go to Central,’” Brown-Trickey said.
“She said what moms would always say, ‘We’ll see’ and then they let us do it. Looking back, I think that’s the heroic in it because we wanted to do it and they let us do it. They knew it was hard but they trusted us. Yes, they are the brave ones.”
Read Part II of Brown-Trickey’s story, how she was expelled from Little Rock Central High School, her move to New York afterwards, and her interactive traveling trips with Sojorn to the Past in next week’s SENTINEL.