Monday, September 6, 2010

One of the Little Rock Nine Dies-A Profile in Arkansas Courage

Having spent 4 years living in Arkansas (some of them in the years that Bill Clinton, the "education governor" was governor), the death of Jefferson Thomas from pancreatic cancer saddens me.

I grew up in NYC and my schools were always integrated - as was my neighborhood.  I can not even imagine growing up in segregation.

My father, during World War II, saw segregation first hand during his Army Air Force service in Biloxi, MS and Paragould, Arkansas.  It made a lifelong impression on me that he passed along to me.  I grew up during the civil rights movement and my Dad would tell me about the segregated swimming pools and drinking fountains, among other things he saw and experienced.

I can not imagine what these nine young people went to just for the privilege of obtaining a first class education.  I can not imagine trying to get an education in a school system which condemned a large part of a state to obtaining education in falling down schools with badly outdated, handed down textbooks from the "white" schools.  My educational life was beginning as these valient young men did what few of us would ever have to do-face hatred head-on.

The area of Arkansas I lived in (unlike Little Rock) did not have a large black population.  However, now, many Hispanics have moved into the area to work in their chicken industry (Tysons).  They may have been trapped in the same "person of color" system but thanks to the Little Rock Nine, they hopefully do not have a second class education in the Springdale schools.

We owe the Nine a debt of gratitude, no matter what race we are.  Those who stand up to hatred and not fold are true heroes and heroines.

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