Essay On Melba Patillo Beals

In 1957, nine African-American students challenged institutionalized segregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, simply by enrolling in Central High School, a formerly all-white school. Melba Patillo Beals was one of the nine determined students who attempted to desegregate the public school system in Little Rock. She later wrote about her experiences in Warriors Don’t Cry, a forthright memoir with the ability to transport its readers into the halls of Central High School and onto the streets of Little Rock during a metamorphic period in American History.

Although briefed by leaders of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on what to expect upon enrollment, the beast the young students awoke was much larger than anticipated. Once Beals and her eight fellow warriors crossed into white-washed territory, they were greeted with spit, profanity, assault, acid, and a constant fear of their safety. The once “tall … majestic… European castle,” Melba fantasized about, transformed into a building she feared.

Ultimately, because of Melba’s support system made up of both familiar faces and unexpected allies, she was able to take the physical and mental trauma she endured and transform it into the perseverance and tenacity that would dictate her future. Melba was a native of Little Rock and lived the life of a southern, middle class African-American family. Her mother, Lois Patillo was an English teacher and earned her graduate degree. Lois’ mother, India, lived with her daughter and became one of the most influential women in Melba’s life. Her father, on the other hand, was an absent and unsupportive figure at the most trying of times.

Will Pattillo, never acquired college degree and worked a hard labor job for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The value he placed on higher education was far less than his wife’s, which eventually led to their divorce. Melba’s father moved out and all that was left was her, Conrad (her brother), Mother Lois, and Grandma India. Arguably, Mother Lois and Grandma India were responsible for raising Melba. The values they instilled in Melba provided her with the ability to actively confront the bigotry of segregation and the myth of separate but equal.

During this confusing time, the white community and many members of the AfricanAmerican community, including family friends and neighbors, opposed Melba’s decision to attend Central. Without being raised in a household that valued both respect and resilience, or one that treasured education and perseverance, Melba’s story would have a different ending. Mother Lois prided herself on being informed and well-read and she wanted her children to have as many opportunities as any African-American could. Therefore, she took it upon herself to stress the importance of education.

In Lois’s mind, knowledge was powerful, and she passed on this belief to her children. Her passion for education is ultimately what influenced her decision to allow Melba to enroll at Central High School. Even though she feared for her daughter’s safety, she understood the importance of desegregating Central because she, too, participated in the desegregation of the Little Rock education system. Lois was also an intricate part of desegregating the University of Arkansas. She was one of the first African-American students to earn a graduate degree from the University.

Lois’ personal connection to desegregation, combined with her passion for learning created a solid, supportive foundation for Melba that was critical to her survival. Speaking from personal experience, Lois told Melba – “… you kick them every week you get through. And if you make it through the year, you’ve hit them with the biggest blow of all. ” Grandma India, although it was never mentioned that she partook in the attempt desegregate the south, supported integration, but believed that it would happen on “[God’s] schedule. ” Grandma India’s life philosophy was based off of atience and prayer.

The advice she gave to Melba throughout her childhood, and most importantly during her year at Central, was not always what Melba wanted to hear. “Patience is a virtue,” she reminded Melba. Many times, what Grandma India said to Melba was met with dissatisfaction, but Melba listened nonetheless. Her advice about resisting the temptation of violent action and constantly striving to obtain the moral high ground, and her overall confidence in her granddaughter provided Melba with the strength to endure the wrath of the deep south.

Grandma India was a strong-willed, God-fearing woman who instilled the same values in her own granddaughter, which allowed her to confront adversity in such a poised manner. The journey of desegregated education, and arguably Melba’s journey to Central High School, began May 17, 1954. On that day, the Supreme Court voted on the Brown v. Board of Education case, and unanimously agreed that separate facilities for black and white people were not equal. This day legally began the stagnant dismemberment of institutionalized segregation.

Although many believe this was a celebrated day for the members of the black community, the court’s ruling actually casted a shadow of fear. On that day, twelve-year-old Melba Pattillo Beals was molested because of the Brown v. Board court ruling. While walking home from school, a white man pinned Melba down and groped her. This white stranger wanted to force his white dominance upon her and use Melba an example for the rest of the African American community in Little Rock. That day, Melba was walked home by Marissa, the girl who saved Melba from being raped.

At this time, Grandma India attempted to help Melba feel less ashamed of what happened and guided her toward scripture and prayer to calm her nerves. Arguably, this was a pivotal moment for their relationship. Since Grandma India guided her through the aftermath of this dishonorable, traumatic event without judging or shaming her granddaughter, Melba gathered that she could trust her Grandma with anything. Melba’s reliance on Grandma India in this moment foreshadows Melba’s dependency on her grandmother in the testing year of 1957.

Grandma India’s actions that led to Melba’s ability to fully recover from an event that might have heightened her already existent fear of white people and prevented her from stepping up on May 24, 1955 – the day she voluntarily signed a sheet saying she wanted to integrate Central High School. In the summer of 1957, Melba was chosen to integrate Central High and on the eve of Melba’s first day at the formerly all-white high school, the Beals’ family started receiving threatening phone calls. That night, Grandma India took it upon herself to protect Melba, Mother Lois, and Conrad, by whatever means necessary.

She pulled out her shotgun nicknamed Mr. Higgenbottom and sat watch over the house until morning. This scene highlights Grandma India’s physical role in both the Beal family as the pillar everyone leaned on and also shows that she, too, was not a superhuman capable of absolute peace. Until the day she died, Grandma India tells Melba to pray to relieve her anger, and never to respond to violence with violence; however, that night, Grandma India was willing to pull a trigger to protect her family.

Although she contradicts her personal beliefs of non-violence, this is yet another moment where Melba feels her Grandmother can protect her from anything. The threats Melba received did not end that evening once her white aggressors fell asleep, some of the threats would eventually involve into actions. Manny of the challenges she faced was being called vulgar words, being in the bathroom and kids setting it on fire, and having acid thrown in her eyes. Before all of this, the federal government intervened, and that is when Melba was assigned to Danny.

Danny was an average height man with “dark hair and deep-set brown eyes. ” He was a member of the 101st Airborne Division that protected the nine black students during their first days at Central. Throughout Danny’s time with Melba, he served as her body guard -more importantly, he evolved into her ally. While Danny might have walked in Melba’s shadow, knowing that he was there, offered Melba the strength to continue through Central High School. Danny protected Melba, but he didn’t remain by her side forever, and in his absence she was forced to endure the torture.

However, she did acquire another, rather unexpected white partner during her time at Central. Link was a student who had a strong relationship with his African-American nanny and he sympathized with the minority community. The friendship began when Link gave Melba his car to escape his friend, Alex, who was trying to kill her. Although Link felt for Melba, their relationship had to remain secret in order to protect both of them. Because of Link, Melba had an insider who would tell her of any plots white students foiled against her.

Sadly, Link was not there to prevent everything, Melba still fell victim to white violence. Students threw acid into her eyes, set the bathroom she was using on fire, and physically assaulted her. Nonetheless, during their year together at Central, Link not only secretly supported her in any way possible, he gave Melba hope that society would eventually change, which fueled her desire to continue her education at Central High School. Ultimately, Melba did not finish high school at Central; however, her efforts led to the desegregation of all Little Rock schools in 1960.

She continued her education at San Francisco State University, and later received a graduate degree in Journalism from Columbia University. After finishing her education, Melba became a journalist and eventually published her memoir. Beals was able to achieve all she did because her year at Central High School and those who supported Melba during the fearsome year of 1957. While she registered at Central High School in order to receive a better education, she ultimately learned about perseverance and gained hope in the white race, two things that proved pertinent to her future.