Civil rights legend Minnijean Brown-Trickey shares Little Rock Nine experiences with CATA students
In the fall of 1957, the world watched as Minnijean Brown-Trickey walked past armed guards and an angry mob into the formerly all-white Little Rock Central High School.
As a young teen, she had no idea that school year would mark a defining moment in civil rights history and help set America on the path toward desegregation in public schools.
Brown-Trickey also didn’t realize that being a member of the Little Rock Nine would also spark her decades-long advocacy of civil rights that most recently brought her to Central Academy of Technology & Arts (CATA) on Feb. 25 where she talked about her experiences overcoming racism to the school’s student body.
The Little Rock Nine isn’t just black history, she told the students. It’s quintessential American history as it includes all of the components of historical significance (i.e., the Constitution, US Supreme Court, federal courts, use of state militia, federal law, etc.).
“It was a very United States event that kind of gets relegated to the back of a book but it was as important as any moment in the United States,” she told the students. “At some point, it will get its place in the middle of history books and will have the value it should.”
After watching clips of the Little Rock Nine featured on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show and the critically acclaimed Eyes on the Prize documentary series, CATA students had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with the civil rights legend.
For more than an hour, the students packed into a single-file line and peppered Brown-Trickey with questions about her resilience and emotional strength, experiences and thoughts about racism and segregation then and today.
“When I heard that she was coming, I started to actually think about her experiences. She’s been through so much that I can’t even imagine,” CATA student Ethan Cammer said. “She talked about choices and how we all have choices to be a bystander or witness to something that is happening. All of those little choices that we make every day are extremely important.”
The auditorium was silent as all of the students hung onto Brown-Trickey’s every word, at times applauding and cheering graciously.
In response to one student’s question about how she was able to endure so much intense hatred from adults and her classmates at such a young age, Brown-Trickey said the angry mob taught her more than any other thing in her whole life.
“I said I would never lose my mind or be mean like that. I would never be like them,” she said. “Watching the mob, when I see their pictures and I see our pictures -- we won. They gave away their dignity and it landed on us. We were just nine kids – I didn’t understand blind hatred then and I still don’t.”
After the program, many of the students asked for Brown-Trickey for autographs, an opportunity to take a photo with her or even a chance to shake her hand and say thank you.
“In history classes, they touch on the Little Rock Nine and say that it happened and it was significant. Now I realize that it had such a greater impact on more than that area of Little Rock but on the entire world,” CATA student Ava Grismer said. “You can actually be the change instead of just standing by. Everyone has a voice and passion and you can use that to spread the messages you want people to hear.”