Stephen Sackur speaks to Elizabeth Eckford about her involvment in the the American civil rights movement and her role as one of the Little Rock Nine.
Browse content similar to Elizabeth Eckford - One of the Little Rock Nine. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Now on BBC News it's
time for HARDtalk.
Welcome to HARDtalk.
I'm Stephen Sackur.
Nowadays, Arkansas, little rock, is
associated with Bill Clinton. But
little rock has another import blaze
in American recent history. It was
here at Little Rock Central High
School that one of the key battles
of the civil rights era was fought.
In September 1957, nine
African American students,
including Elizabeth Eckford,
entered the all-white
Little Rock Central High School
in Arkansas, thereby breaking
the racial segregation barrier in US
schools for the first time.
They became known as
the Little Rock Nine.
Two years earlier the US
Supreme Court had ruled segregation
in schools to be unconstitutional.
Little Rock Nine one of their right
to enter Little Rock Central High
School. Like Rosa Parks before them,
they came to embody the bravery
behind the civil rights struggle. My
guess today is one of them.
Elizabeth Eckford. She was just 15
in 1957 but one extraordinary
photograph ensures that her role
will be forever remembered. Little
Rock Central High School Little Rock
Elizabeth Eckford, welcome to
HARDtalk and thank you very much for
inviting me into your home. You are
very welcome. Let me begin by asking
is something that struck me entering
your house. You have had six decades
of people eating a path to your
door, wanting to talk to you
because, as it happened, you played
an extraordinary role as an
individual in the civil rights
movement in the United States. Do
you ever sometimes wish things had
gone differently? That you did not
have all this attention?
When I was
a child, I was very shy, I was a
submissive child from a household
where my parents, frankly, were
benevolent Ali oligarchs. We knew
they loved us. Two jobs to take
care, six kids to take care of. In
this house? It does not look the
same but it was the same.
It was not
a household that was full of
radicalism, the beginnings of the
demand for civil rights equality and
justice. How can it be that you, as
a shy, timid 15 it-year-old, ended
up on that first list of black
students who were going to roll at
the White high school?
almost didn't happen. I asked my
mother during spring that we had
learned it would be desegregated. I
called her the Queen of now, now
that she is not around at this time
she did not say no and that was an
characteristic of my mother.
what a writer who wrote a very
interesting and long piece about you
on the 50th anniversary of the
events at Little Rock Central High
School. She was painfully shy
15-year-old daughter of a hyper
protective mother who was reluctant
to challenge the racial Morais and,
in fact, Elizabeth was the
unlikeliest child blaze of all.
not only because of my personality
because of my mother. In our
household... Both parents were
always on the same page for the
Ossetians. It took a long time to
get to yes for them and so when
names of the 17 students who were
selected were in the newspaper, I
told my parents that it was almost
too late, that I had to go. The
reason I wanted to go is that I
wanted to get the best education
possible. I had been brought up in a
working-class family but I had been
brought up with the assumption that
I would go to college and I knew
that, to do that, I needed to get
Do you think that you
or your mum or your dad had any idea
of the scale of the opposition and
the hate and violence that could be
started up by whites in this town?
This was a total shock. Violence in
schools was not part of the 1950s
and it being allowed to continue day
after day... First it was thought
things would get better as timed to
sign and when it didn't change and
even a few students who had made
friendly overtures to us now turned
their backs so the only voices of
being heard were the voices of
people who were organised to attack
us, both physically and verbally...
Who were systematically racist.
stop the fall spending time thinking
about the impact that had a new ones
you started Little Rock Central High
School, lets think about the moment
that you were actually the first
black student to appear at the high
school, September four, and because
of a bit of a mixup over timing, the
other eight were not with you?
was not the only one who came there
independently. Terence Roberts who
lived with him walking distance of
the school, less than ten blocks
away, walked to the school, and
after he was turned away, he came
and tried to encourage me to leave
The fact is, the several
minutes, you are pretty much
isolated as EU face not just one or
to but actually a couple of 100, at
least, white people - now some of
them young and some of them old- who
had gathered to try to block any
black student getting into school
Yes. That was shocking.
What was more shocking to me was
that I had thought that a National
Guard was there to protect all
students, including me. They were
there to keep me out and I did not
realise that an deal I was turned
away the third time and, even
directed to go across the street,
where those angry voices were.
have been reading some of the words
directed at you. 15 years old, Lynch
hurt, people said, they used the end
of word. People said get out of
school, go back to where you came
And some said, they thought I
should go back... LAUGHTER.
though you were born and raised in
Some believe that I was
somebody who had been brought here
specifically to disrupt their
To make trouble. Yes. What
innocent is made of this
particularly remarkable for you and
lived through the ages as your
experience was one photograph. The
picture is remarkable for lots of
different reasons. I mean, that
dignity in your pose and the sense
of isolation amongst all those white
faces that there is in new but of
course the other reason it is
remarkable is because it captures
the rage of one young woman, a
fellow student, Hazel brand, who is
right behind you and her face is
twisted in a shout. At that time,
were you aware of her presence and
For a long time, I did
not know who she was and finally I
did learn her first name but, after
a while, I forgot it.
The trauma you
went to the top you had to turn
back, the National guard were not
going to let you in, the people did
not want you in and you just had to
turn around. I just wonder why your
parents, at that point, did not say,
enough, we cannot put Elizabeth
through that again and we are going
to have to go back on this planet
and put back in the black school.
mother had been an accommodated to
avoid difficulty with white people.
She had grown up in Royal Arkansas
-- rural. Their livelihood dependent
on the goodwill of white people. She
came to Little Rock as a teenager in
order to get an education and she's
not unique in that.
When we get to
the reality of what it was like you
inside the school, here are some
quotations I have taken for what
were later released papers of the
headmistress of the school. Later we
found this, an account of the days
after you had gone into the school.
October 28, Elizabeth shoved in the
whole weight. -- Hollway. Jostled in
the gym. Hit with an implement.
Kicked. Elisabeth punched. Elisabeth
shoved on the stairs. Elisabeth
knocked flat. That was your reality?
Yes. And... A lot of horrible things
that happened were in the gym. Our
show is did not have petitions
between people so when the water
turned suddenly hot, very hot, I
could see that the girl on the side
and this side had turned the water.
They had anticipated it, which
brings to mind the many, many
bystanders who turned their backs
and acted like they didn't hear or
see what was happening. That makes a
person who is being attacked feel
like they think we are getting what
we deserved and that is one thing
that encouraged encourages me to
speak out, to let people know how
powerful they can be in someone's
life who is being set apart and
attacked and other people are
ignoring it. There were two students
at my school who engage me in
ordinary conversation every day.
Yes to white students and
a new debate had to have paid a
price for that. I did not know what
until many years later, I learned
the girl who lived outside the town,
on a farm, and her father hired
armed guards and the boy was
supported by his parents.
atmosphere was toxic, really. Yes.
And this very year you have written
a book about bullying and what
children experience when they are
terribly bullied. I just wonder now
that you reflect on it, you think
that, frankly, it damage due in ways
that you have had to live with the
rest of your life?
Yes, that is
apparent when I hear outside
noises... But most of the attacks
were behind me and I only turned
around 1's and so I couldn't
identify my attackers and... But
what was most important to me were
the people who supported me and that
allowed me to tell students,
particularly, that they can help
somebody live another day by
engaging them in a humane way, by
acknowledging that even though they
are different that that difference
does not mean that they would hate
them. That is very powerful to a
person who is being hurt and
the individual, is suffered so much
on what you did was part of
something that was much bigger, that
is the struggle for civil rights and
it was not just about the
segregating the schools, it was
about so many other things too, but
do you think in a sense, I was
sacrificed to a bigger, wider
It was a self-sacrifice,
self-sacrifice. I had to make a
decision every day that I was going
to go back into that hellhole. I
knew what I would be facing after a
while. But... One of the Little Rock
nine was a girl who had a hole in
the heart, years and years before
open-heart surgery was available. In
fact, she did not have surgery until
after she had graduated from college
and she was in a crisis. So... How
could I leave her behind?
if it ultimately helps you to come
back to Little Rock because after
school, you spent quite a few years
out of this place, and I know those
were really tough years for you.
Yes, I didn't know the full extent
of, of my experiences. I did not
know how damaging, how damaged I
was. But I felt like I was fortunate
to be in an environment where people
did not know anything about my
Rights, you want to just
be out of that for a while.
That it was not making you happy
because you were...
No, I had
periodic depression, serious
depression. But, I never knew. I did
not understand why. I did not
understand that I have post, big
stress. And they have... I did not
start talking to students until
1990... Seven, I think.
Which is 40
Yes. Well, for 30
years, none of this talk about what
was like for in school. Most people
think the worst happened on the
But was much more
But also brings me to ask
you about the complicated
relationship that you developed with
hazel Brown, who was the girl were
referred to earlier in the picture,
Liz yelling at you with hate in her
Yes, yes. The photographer who
took that picture introduced me to
her a couple of days before the 40th
anniversary, and... I knew that she
felt a lot of trepidation about
going public. She had told her sons,
who were the older kid, about the
picture that they would encounter.
-- kids. To prepare them, but I
remember being with her family
members and I remember her daughter
saying, that she was looking through
a book and she said that is my
mother. She had not been prepared.
But the point is, Hazel wanted...
She wanted... She wanted to reach
out to you.
Yes, she had called me
in 1963, during the summer, to
apologise. But she never said what
she was apologising for.
How do you,
what do you mean by that? You think
that somehow she wanted you to
forgive her that she did not want to
delve deep into... Where she was out
on what she had done?
Yes, yes, yes.
In fact, I began to realise, we
spent two years together.
Yes. Gradually I began to
realise that she was not
acknowledging the full extent of
what she had done.
-- you mean.
told one reporter that life is more
than a moment and she should not be
judged just on that moment, but also
I had acquired is three different
videotapes of her having some
moments. -- had acquired three. She
eventually said that she had amnesia
about the past.
Umina about other
incidents where she was expressing
Yeah, and the parents
removed her from Central sometime
during March, no, I am sorry, much
earlier than that. Sometime during
October, 1957, they said for her
I just wonder if here, there
may be some deeper sort of metaphor
about where America is because
reconciliation is not easy.
You know, you have had the
congressional medal, you have had
meetings with your Clinton and
statues erected in your honour and
the Little Rock nine's honour, and
you have become a hugely respected
figure because of the way you have
handled your own personal
experience, but in the end, for
America to really come to terms with
all of this is not about just
putting up statues and giving gold
medal is out, it is about every
person's heart and mind changing.
And I wonder if you feel that is
This is my mantra.
The only way we can have real
reconciliation is to honestly
acknowledge our painful is not
Let me ask you this. I
dare say it not so very far from
this house they will be a young
15-year-old black girl who is
currently enrolled in Central high,
here in Little Rock. Do you believe
that her life, her opportunities,
her experience, is going to be much
better, much easier, for sure, then
yours or not?
I know that the
possibilities for her future art,
will be... Better than mine were.
Because so much has changed,
especially opportunities for women.
But... That depends upon her being
prepared, prepared. I tell students
that it is their obligation to
prepare themselves for their
futures, and those who do not repair
it will be cast aside. I do not
pretty it up, I just tell them
straight up they will be cast aside.
We have talked a lot about what has
happened in the States in your long
life, and I just wonder when we
talked about the journey and you
express your concerns about America
today, EU said the journey is
nowhere near complete, in fact, we
are still near the beginning, but do
you have faith that ultimately, that
journey will lead to a place where
the races are equal, where justice
and equality are guaranteed for all
Americans, including black
That is my hope for the
future. But it's been a long time
coming, and it will be... I don't
know whether I will live to see it.
I do not know whether I will live to
see it. But... That's my hope for
the future. I understand my place in
history, I am an historical
footnote. That is 1am, not a
celebrity. When I started talking to
students, I would cry during my
presentations. -- that is what I M.
I have worked my way to wear that
does not happen any more but I guess
I was doing my own exposure therapy.
-- I am. I did not even know about
exposure therapy until recent years.
Elizabeth Eckford, it has been a
real honour to talk to you and thank
you for letting me into your house
and thank you for being on HARDtalk.
Thank you. When I had an opportunity
to speak to the public, I always
remind them of how powerful their
voices can be in support of a person
who is being hurt.
In September 1957, nine African American students, including Elizabeth Eckford, entered the all-white Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, thereby breaking the racial segregation barrier in US schools for the first time. They became known as the Little Rock Nine. Two years earlier the US Supreme Court had ruled segregation in schools to be unconstitutional. The first time Elizabeth Eckford tried to enter Little Rock Central High she was turned away, and the image of her surrounded by a hostile crowd of local white people is one of the most famous photographs of the American civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 60s. Stephen Sackur is at her family home in Little Rock and asks if she regrets her central role in a famous chapter of recent American history.