Melba Pattillo Beals was a young girl in 1957. She was also one of the nine African American students chosen to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas's all-white Central High School. She is one of the faces in the grainy black and white photos that most of us recognize from history class or documentaries on television.
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but I've come away from the reading of it wishing I could meet Ms. Beals. She wrote so honestly of her life from those days in Little Rock right up to the present. It was eye-opening, for me as a white woman, to read about what it was like in Little Rock and inside Central High from someone who was there, who was right in the middle of it, and experienced it all. She writes of the ways it changed her life and her community, both good and bad. Much of what Beals went through I had never heard about, but I also never thought about it that deeply....the small but constant injustices, the effect it had on the African American community, the toll it took on that group known as the Little Rock Nine.
Beals also writes about her marriage, her career, and her children and life since Little Rock. She was surely shaped by that event and by the strong faith in God fostered in her by her grandmother, whose advice she remembers often and quotes throughout the book. As she shares the new kinds of discrimination and oppression she finds outside of Little Rock as an African American and a woman....even in liberal California....she can't help but share her faith as it is woven throughout her life, a part of who she is. It was very refreshing to read how naturally she makes it a part of her life and leans on God in all things. She could have allowed circumstances to make her bitter or cause her to take actions she'd later regret, but all along she heard her grandmama's advice, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he told her she didn't fight for herself but for those who would come after her, and the still, small voice of God giving her strength.
The life of Ms Beals is a fascinating one and I am glad to have learned about her and her experiences. She has a beautiful spirit and a love of God that is inspiring. I have a better understanding, not only of what things were like back in the 1950's and 60's, but of some of the discrimination still faced by African Americans today. I highly recommend this book to all but young children as some of the things told are rather intense and violent.