With all of the research that we have done and the new information that Mrs. Mothershed-Wair gave us, the students were getting a little concerned with the status of integration today. So they decided that we should write a letter to Melba Pattillo Beals (since she is the author of the novel) and see what she thinks about integration and whether or not she views it as a success. Below is the correspondence that we had with Mrs. Pattillo Beals and what we learned from her.
Ms. Pattillo Beals,
Hello, my name is Kylie Lambeth and I am a middle school teacher at East Forsyth Middle School in Kernersville, North Carolina. I am writing to you today because my team of teachers and our students have been studying a unit on the Civil Rights Movement and in particular the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In social studies, the kids read your novel Warriors Don’t Cry and they absolutely LOVED it. We discussed the types of bullying and torture that each of you were faced with every day and discussed how we came to that point in history and whether or not we had grown since then. The students spent a lot of time debating whether or not they believed that we had changed since then and many of them were upset by the idea that we are still very much segregated today (at least in our school district) even though you and your fellow Little Rock Nine members went through what you did during that hellacious school year. The kids have spent countless hours researching the demographics of schools in our area and beyond and have ultimately come to the conclusion that segregation is still very much alive in many parts of our country. While discussing this fact in class the other day, one of my very upset students questioned how you (as the author of the book and one of the Little Rock Nine) felt about this idea of our twenty-first century segregation. That question led to a discussion in which the kids were adamant about writing to you to see how you feel and how you think they could get involved in integrating our schools. I would like to thank you for your time because I know that you must be a very busy woman. But, my students have found a new hero in you and the other members of the nine and they are determined to find some way to help ensure that what you went through wasn’t in vain.
I was extremely pleased to get your letter and hear about the attitudes of your students on this issue. A lot has changed in this country since I tried to set foot in Central High School over sixty years ago, but not enough (Bankston and Caldas). I am a firm believer that different races, ethnicities, religious groups, etc. can learn from one another and that the only way for us to do that is to start educating all of these people together. I definitely agree with your students that segregation is still present in the world. While laws have been passed that prevent African Americans from being restricted from entering places, that doesn’t stop people from making us feel unwanted or unwelcome. I believe that with the Latino population that has been increasing dramatically in this country, it is extremely evident that the white majority doesn’t want much to do with minority people (especially in the Southern states). I feel that we are once again going back to the idea of “separate but equal”(Chemerinsky). Most people who are part of the majority (whites) believe that African Americans have the same rights and opportunities so now it is up to the individual to make something of themselves. With all schools being classified as “integrated,” since they can’t refuse a student based on their race or ethnicity, we (as a country) have gotten into the mindset that these schools are equal. Despite this notion, these schools are not equal and it does not benefit students to be separated from people of different races or ethnicities. The reality is that America is quickly becoming a nation of the minorities and despite your region or profession; all students are going to come into contact with someone who is “different” than they are at some point in their life. I would like to challenge your students to not only be tolerant, but accepting of people they would classify as “different”. I believe that in order to change segregation in schools, you have to change segregation in communities. You must first change the heart of the people before you can change the way society runs. So for them to go out and teach others about the beauty of individuality and differences, they can make a difference themselves. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work that you are doing with these students. Feel free to keep me updated on their success and this project.
God Bless and Best Wishes,
Melba Pattillo Beals