Will D. Campbell

The Children

This is more a reminiscence than a commentary. Such are the ways of old men. Little Rock. September, 1957. It was a children’s war, really. Nine young children pitted against the political structure of the state, armed troops, and a howling mob. The Supreme Court said they could attend Central High School. Governor Orval Faubus said them nay.

The young children set out from Dunbar Community Center at about ten o’clock to face the soldiers and the hostile crowd. They would be turned back that day, the odds against them too great, their advocates too few. But true to the attributes of the young, they would not forgo their mission. They would be back.

One child, the youngest of the nine, deceptively frail in appearance, was separated from the others. Elizabeth Eckford was her name. As the others approached the warlike phalanx of the soldiers, she was alone. When she made it to a bench near the campus and sat down, exhausted and unsure of what to do, a white man approached and sat down beside her. “Don’t let them see you cry,” he whispered. But she did cry. Her weeping, though, was not from fear. She cried of a broken heart, a young heart broken by a people who would either commit these atrocities themselves, or do nothing to stop them.

Maybe we learned something that day. Learned enough that we will never again turn away from our weeping children seeking justice.

In the end the children prevailed.

Ms. Elizabeth Eckford, attempting to go to school, Little Rock, 1957

Ms. Elizabeth Eckford, attempting to go to school, Little Rock, 1957

Originally published in Soul Among Lions: Musings of a Bootleg Preacher by Will D. Campbell (WJK, 1999)