In the summer of 1957, 16-year-old Ernest Green got the chance
to go to Little Rock Central High school in Arkansas, the first
desegregated high school in America. He knew if he took that chance
he would have to go to an originally all-white school, where he
would endure taunts, death threats and loneliness.

At the same time, he knew if he went he wouldn’t have to
deal with ripped books or worn-out lab equipment — he had an
opportunity to get the best education possible.

All of this couldn’t of happened if it wasn’t for
Brown v. Board of Education Ernest Green said last night at Rackham
Auditorium.

In the last event of the University’s 17th annual Reverend
Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium, titled “The Long Shadow of
Little Rock,” Green, the first black student to graduate from
Central High School spoke to the community on the significance of
the court case. “(Brown) took us into a different direction
and said America is not a racially divided state,” Green
said.

Green, along with eight other students from Little Rock’s
black community, attempted to enter the Arkansas high school on
Sept. 23, 1957 amid some of the white community’s opposition.
During that month, the American public watched the town of Little
Rock as acts of racism erupted over the attempt to integrate the
school. Now those events of Little Rock High School have become an
integral part of the history of the civil rights movement.

Green was propelled to the forefront of the event, as he became
the first black student to graduate. But last night, Green did not
come to the University to talk so much about his experience, but
wanted to emphasize on why Brown should be remembered and what
University students should take away from it.

He began by explaining that race has always been the most
difficult issue for the American people to overcome. “It
remains the greatest social burden we face,” he said.

The court ruling of Brown helped provide the solution to this
burden as it got rid of the foundations of racism, since it became
a catalyst and further ignited the civil rights movement, leading
to the creation of voting rights for people of all races, Green
said.

Moreover, Brown lead to the desegregation of Arkansas schools,
Green said. “Central High was just part of the implementation
of Brown. …It was apart of an assertive effort to bring
change.”

But there is still a long road ahead toward complete racial
equality and freedom, Green said. “There still exist
inequalities in housing and jobs. A study indicated 70 percent of
blacks attend all black schools. These schools are in poor
condition.”

He added that America needs to focus on further economic
development, to ensure black communities can support their families
and provide their children with a good education.

Green also stressed the need for citizens to become move
involved in politics. “Only 50 percent of Americans voted in
last year’s election. …There’s been too much
blood, sweat and tears spent on trying to get voting rights,”
he said.

Other speakers at the event — University Senior Vice
Provost for Academic Affairs Lester P. Monts and University of
California Berkeley Prof. Waldo E. Martin — also spoke at the
event and offered more of their views of the significance of Little
Rock and Green’s involvement.

“They were all wanted to get the best education,”
Monts said of Green and his fellow students who attended Little
Rock. But in attaining that education, Monts said some members of
the white community wanted to kill them for breaking the bonds of
segregation. Mont added Green and his fellow students were
courageous but endured an unspeakable pain.

“We need to remember they were 14 to 16 years old, and
these were subjected to these things,” Monts said. He added
that we should also remember these horrifying experiences about
Little Rock as well as the Green’s courage.

LSA junior Charnetta Butler said of Green’s speech and his
role in Little Rock, “It was inspiring, As a person in higher
education, you have to know where it started from.”

But Green also pointed out greater attention also needs to be
paid to the local black community of Little Rock. “My parents
were the real heroes, they were old enough to know what they were
giving up.”

When his parents let him attend the school, Green said they
instilled with him the confidence he needed. If it was not for
them, Green would never have had the chance to attend Little Rock,
nor would he have sustained the determination to bear it.

As for his role in the Little Rock high school, Green said they
knew they were representing colored people and they wanted to prove
themselves. “It was our determination, we were determined to
break the barriers.”

Still, Green also said that those were very confusing times
where no one knew what impact they would be making, yet in the end
all of the nine found that they had an opportunity to get a better
education. “It was an attempt to try and widen the options
that were so limited before,” he added.

Green then said to students that it’s important to
remember the civil rights movement, but not to dwell on it.
“What I want to transmit to you guys is, you need to build
your own legacy for the future.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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