Are We Separating or Attaching?

It’s almost time for school to begin again.

Last week my daughter Jenna let me help get her kindergarten classroom ready. We cut, sorted, and glued. And prayed.

She wants these babies to step into her room feeling loved from the first day on.

Jenna-school

Is This Integration?

Her school is about 93% black and brown children, with most of the families lacking in resources most of us take for granted.

We may have come a long way with integration in our Alabama city. In 1963 little Sonnie Hereford IV went first. After initially being turned away when trying to enter first grade, six days later they let him in. His father, Dr. Sonnie Hereford IV, died just weeks ago at a great loss to our community. He won’t get to see the opening of Sonny Hereford Elementary later this year.

But we still have a long way to go.

Stories about segregation and discrimination in our schools continue to fill our our local news each week.

Are we still more separate than we are together?

Know Your History

I just finished reading Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals, a book originally published in 1995.

I could hardly take it.

Warriors-Don't-Cry

I wish everyone would read it.

Melba was one of the Little Rock Nine. They were nine African-American high school students who agreed to be the first to integrate the previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957.

05_Elizabeth-Little-Rock-Nine

Elizabeth Eckford walks from Little Rock’s Central High after Guardsmen barred her from school. Photo Credit: Time.com

03_Central-High-School

Arkansas National Guard stand on duty during the integration of Little Rock Central High School, 1957. Photo Credit: Time.com

[click here if you can’t see the 3½ minute video on the Little Rock Nine]

I doubt they knew exactly what they were stepping into.

“Besides, we had been told students of Little Rock’s richest and most important white families attended there. They were also probably very smart. As soon as those students got to know us, I had total faith they would realize how wrong they had been about our people.”

What a price they paid to go first. In attempting to bridge a gap between two separate groups of people, they sacrificed in many ways.

“‘Look,’ Mother said, ‘there’s a price to be paid for freedom; we pay it now or we’re in ‘ball and chain’ forever.’”

In her book Melba describes the horrible treatment they received from the white students and the faculty. Not only were racial slurs thrown at them every day, but they were physically hurt as well, while most of the faculty just watched passively.

  • Can you imagine being in a stall in the girls’ bathroom only to look up at pieces of flaming paper being dropped over the top on your head?
  • Or have acid thrown into your eyes when you opened your locker?
  • Or have someone step on the back of your heels every day when you walked down the halls?

Who Would You Be?

Melba learned she had to become like a warrior to survive.

“A new voice in my head spoke to me with military-like discipline: Discover ink sprayed on the contents of your locker—don’t fret about it, deal with it. Get another locker assigned, find new books, get going—don’t waste time brooding or taking the hurt so deep inside. Kicked in the shin, tripped on the marble floor—assess the damage and do whatever is necessary to remain mobile. Move out! Warriors keep moving. They don’t stop to lick their wounds or cry.”

01_Little Rock Nine-Soldiers

Arkansas National Guardsmen prevent African-American students from entering Little Rock Central High School, September 1957. Photo Credit: Time.com

Would I have had their courage?

I don’t know. Not likely.

19_Leaving-Central-High

African-American students escorted by federal troops, Little Rock Central High School, 1957. Photo Credit: Time.com

But those doing the abuse?

Would I have behaved so cruelly?

I don’t know that either, sadly. If I had been a white student at Central High in 1957, raised in an environment of ignorance and bigotry, perhaps I would have succumbed to the mob mentality, too.

I pray to God not.

But I’m wary of self-righteousness to claim I’d have behaved better.

The lesson is clear: Discrimination is poisonous. From every angle. Whether you’re being abused or are the one doing the abusing, it’s bad for the soul.

“If my Central High School experience taught me one lesson, it is that we are not separate. The effort to separate ourselves whether by race, creed, color, religion, or status is as costly to the separator as to those who would be separated.”

Despite the intolerance shown them, the Little Rock Nine went on to lead successful and productive lives in our country and around the world.

But those white teenagers? I wonder what happened to them. As they aged, did they regret their actions and attitudes? Or did they stay steeped in prejudice?

Here’s an interesting 4-minute clip of three of those now-grown teenagers, coming face to face with seven of the Little Rock Nine on an Oprah show in 1996.

Little-Rock-Nine-Forgive

And Now

As I watched snippets of the RNC last week, I noticed few black faces in the crowd. Out of 2,472 national delegates in Cleveland, how many were black? 18. Only double the number of the Little Rock Nine. (Draw your own conclusions about why.)

And in Jenna’s new class this year? It will be mainly one color too.

We’re not where we need to be. We must keep growing together, not apart.

We must keep attaching to each other, not separating.

We must keep loving our neighbors. All our neighbors.

Warriors Don’t Cry ends appropriately with this:

Namaste
(the God in me sees and honors the God in you)

Let it be so, Lord.

* * *

Have you read Warriors Don’t Cry? I highly recommend it.

What are your experiences with school integrations? Church integrations? Please share in the comments.

Related:

42 thoughts on “Are We Separating or Attaching?

  1. Julie

    Lisa-
    This post had me going through so many emotions. I wish I’d be that brave in the face of adversity. I pray for our hearts to show love to all people.
    I enjoyed this post!
    Your neighbor at #InspireMeMondays
    Julie

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know, Julie. I have so many emotions with all this too. May the Lord guide us to do whatever the next right move is!

  2. Jerralea

    I think we are making progress, but recent events show how far, we, as a nation, have to go …

    I know that I, myself, look at things at lot differently than how I was raised.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Change does seem slow, but even if it’s one generation at a time moving in the positive direction, that is progress. May the Lord quicken our pace before more people are hurt. Thanks for sharing, Jerralea. There is always reason for hope!

  3. Kelly Chripczuk

    This is such a strong post, Lisa. Thank you for sharing. I have found reading different perspectives from different points in history to be so very helpful as I wade through the rhetoric that abounds in our country right now.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it helps me, too, Kelly, to keep reading and listening and reading some more. From times past, from times present. It’s too easy for me to just see my only tiny perspective; I need to keep expanding my view.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is a pity. We definitely are continuing to reap the fruit of years and years of racism. Hopefully the more aware we are now, the more we’ll change it.

  4. June

    A difficult book to read, I’m sure. Great post. Sadly, I agree with Andrew. And, in my opinion, the government and the “laws” are doing more to divide us racially. I believe the only way we’re going to unite racially, or any other way, is when each one of us determines to do it. One interaction, one relationship, one conversation at a time. Praying for your daughter and all the little souls in her class. Blessings on your week, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for your prayers, June. May we all heed your words to do this: “One interaction, one relationship, one conversation at a time.” Amen.

  5. ~ linda

    Lisa, I smiled at first seeing your daughter preparing for her new class and that you were with her to get the room ready. To pray over the room and for the children is such a blessing.
    As I read this post, I thought of our past conversations here on the web about books along these lines. I, too, feel so disheartened right now because it truly does not feel like the gap is any narrower than it was, maybe worse. When politicians add to the divisiveness, it surely seems terribly worse. And killings and hatred…I just want us all to be able to see that God made us each and all. Yet, how???
    We watched a movie a month or so ago about the 4 children killed in 1963 at the Birmingham, AL, 16th Street Baptist Church. I ached at that horror too.
    I pray for unity and through God, we can rest. He knows. Yet, you and I want answers now. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing this book.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love that you are such a kindred spirit, Linda. You encouraged me at the beginning of last school year, and here you are encouraging me at the beginning of this one. God does connect us with the right people at the right time. May he now connect us with the right people to love to reduce some of this hostility stirring around us. Yes, he knows.

  6. melody

    What a beautiful yet hard post. We live in a rural town in NC (only for 6 years) and our eyes have been opened in ways I never could imagine to the horrible abuse you speak of. The movie theatre stories my black friends have shared with me – they had to wait outside until all the white people filled up the downstairs and then they could file in last and sit on the upper level. Sometimes they’d throw popcorn down below and I can’t say I don’t blame them. They were not allowed to be hired. Could not enter certain restraunts or attend certain churches. I had no clue. I’m embarrassed and broken over what these friends and their families and neighbors went through. When I hear stories from my black friends I don’t know how to respond. I want to apologize on behalf of all the white people who were such monsters. And many times I do. Pity is not the appropriate response but acknowledgment of it and a sorrow over it perhaps. I don’t even know.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for sharing all this here, Melody! These are important stories that we all need to hear. It breaks my heart, too. We can’t afford to stay blind and deaf to the hateful treatment that so many have received through the years, and many still do. I feel like you: when I hear these kinds of stories, I feel the need to apologize, too. I like to think that every little bit of listening and caring and changing makes a difference in softening all our hearts toward each other. Lord, have mercy.

  7. Michele Morin

    I also ask myself questions about historical figures. Would I dare to do what they did? I’m afraid that my answers don’t reflect well on me, but I do appreciate your review and reflections on this book.
    So many books . . . so little time.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Michele…I wonder about the politicians, too. I’m sure many have regrets from decisions they made back then. And others can feel proud that they took the difficult stand of equality for all, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.This really was a powerful book, but yes, I agree—so many books, so little time.

  8. Grace Bower

    Thank you Lisa. As a mothrr who has helped her daughter get ready for a new school year and a teacher who also made her classroom safe for children who weren’t I am right there with you. And as someone who watched CNN last week so I could be informed and pray specifically I thank you. Anf as the mother of another daughter who saw some of the New Zealand news coverage, I saw her fast and pray yesterday after her heart was stirred too. So from the far side of the sea we have people praying for you all.
    A Kiwi Interviewer spoke to a lady at the RNC and she said straight to the camera pray and if you’ve never prayed before now would be a good time to start. That went out on New Zealand tv..

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a beautiful story, Grace. I love knowing that people all over the world are praying for us! We need it. God bless you and your family for your time in preparing classrooms and then loving on kids there! I believe that each encounter makes a dent in healing our world and spreading the love of Jesus. Blessings to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Awesome! Let me know what you think after you read it, Betty. Although the story was very sad and hard, it kept me wanting to read more.

  9. Debbie

    I haven’t read the book. I believe we have make great progress, but I also think we’ve lost some of that these past few months. Living here close to Dallas I don’t see all you speak of so much. Over 30 years ago our schools changed here. I substitute teach now that I’m retired and we even have spanish students who do not speak English and have ESL classes for them

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I believe we’ve made great progress too, Debbie. I’m grateful for that! Things have definitely changed from the days that blacks couldn’t even use the same toilets as white. Now to continue moving forward and not lose ground to any false sense that everything is “normal” now. We’re not there yet. There’s so much going on inside people’s hearts that have been hidden and are now being revealed, which is when God can most change us.

  10. Dianne Thornton

    I agree with your readers … This is a strong post, and a challenging one. Definitely a call to examine our hearts. I’m grateful that we can look back at history, and learn from those who went before us. Sometimes we need difficult stories to jolt us into seeing our true selves. Visiting from the Link-ups.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Dianne. We need to remember what’s happened before our time so we can better understand our current times. We’re not very far removed from those days and we need not forget what people have suffered in some of our own lifetimes. Thanks for visiting!

  11. Mary Geisen

    Oh my goodness the injustice and inequality of segregation. The question you ask as to whether we are still more separate than we are together is one we all need to ask ourselves and reflect on the answer. As a retired teacher, I experienced some of what you described above. To think that the year is 2016 and there is still a sense of schools that are not for every student that walks in the door. The book sounds amazing. Thank you Lisa for the review. Best of luck to your daughter. May her heart be open and ready to love big when the Kindergarteners walk through the door on the first day.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for your encouraging words for my daughter, Mary. She is excited to get back into the classroom after the summer break. I’m sure you have so many stories of your own after years of teaching. What a blessing you must have been to your students. And I know you will continue to be a positive influence to those you may still encounter!

  12. Susan Shipe

    Lisa, I’m not sure I’d be that brave. God help us all. Looking for the book as soon as I’m done with two I’m committed to. Thank you.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I don’t think I’d be that brave either, Susan. 🙁 It took SO much courage for them to endure that psychological and physical bullying for a year. But what a bridge they made for all students to come.

  13. Becky Hastings

    This is beautiful and heartbreaking and encouraging and real. There is so much we think we know until we see or read something like this. Thank you for opening my eyes today. Visiting from #TellHisStory

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Those adjectives describe it so well, Becky. We do think we’ve learned so much (and we have), but we have so much more to learn. Listening to each other and walking alongside, when we can, are such effective ways to learn more. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Elizabeth

    Change in the human heart is desperately needed, for no laws are able to remove the root of self focus and hatred of anyone “other”. It begins with us, in our own heart, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our churches.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Amen, Elizabeth. The outer rules don’t change the inner man (although they can curb our behaviors at times). But the real changes we all need begin inside each of us.

  15. Jean Wise

    very good review and thought provoking. to be honest I don’t think I would have had the courage to stand up. This new era of becoming more aware of what I am NOT aware of when it comes to the still existing prejudices though is stirring a desire to be more involved. Interesting noting the colors at the RNC. I just thought the opposite when looking at the crowd last night at the DNC – I thought very reflective of our current society – almost beautiful in all the rich variation of colors.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I noticed that difference between the two crowds too, Jean. Such a variety of people in the crowd stirred my heart. We are a very unique nation. May we be open to receiving and giving the grace it takes to continue improving it!

  16. Debbie Kitterman

    Lisa – you are so right – we must keep growing together – not apart. I appreciat your review on this book and I am going to look into as soon as I finish with the one I have committed to for a book launch. I have to admit, I don’t do very well with stories of injustice… it makes me so mad that people treat others as if they have no value… Oh it gets my blood boiling for sure….. I love this line from Melba about being a warrior …. don’t fret about it, deal with it….. get up keep moving that’s what warriors do…. I am not sure I would have the courage to be one of the 9, but maybe – praying for your daughter as she steps back into the classroom and loves on the kids God is sending her. Your neighbor today at #WomenWithIntention

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It gets my blood boiling too, Debbie, to hear stories of such hatred. It’s hard to imagine. Yet how would I have reacted back then? I like to think I would have done better, but I might have behaved even worse, who knows? 🙁 Thank you for your prayers for my daughter! I appreciate it and I know she will, too.

  17. Sarah Donegan

    We must keep attaching and not separating. Yes!

    I can’t imagine what it must have been like, but I am so glad they were brave. We must keep moving forward and honoring their legacy.

  18. Lori Schumaker

    So much to think about here, Lisa. We aren’t where we need to be. Yes, we have come a long way and I believe that we were making very good progress until the last few years. Then it began to slip backwards and now with grief in my heart, I feel that the divide is greater and the anger from both sides deeper. I pray God can win the battle of bitterness and fear so that we can begin to go forward again.

    Thank you, friend, for your beautiful post of hope. And thank you for sharing it at #MomentsofHope!
    Blessings and smiles,
    Lori

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m thankful that we always have reason to hope, despite how ugly things can look to our natural eyes. I’m praying God will use increased spiritual clarity to help us make things better for the future. I feel we haven’t been aware enough of things other people were feeling, but now that we’re more aware, we can act. Thanks for your encouraging words, Lori!

  19. Laura Thomas

    Such a moving post, Lisa! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book, too—looks like a fascinating read. “We must keep loving our neighbours. All our neighbours.” Jesus made it pretty clear, I think! Stopping by from #TellHisStory — Blessings to you 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      The book really moved me. I had always heard about the Little Rock 9, but I guess I’d never really thought much about what they went through. Even reading it, I can still hardly imagine. 🙁


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