The Warriors’ Fight

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Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals is an intense memoir about the schools’ inequity in the 1950’s. After the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, former President Eisenhower tells the Governor of Arkansas, Governor Faubus, that they must start to integrate schools in Little Rock. Melba, a fifteen-year-old African American girl, and eight others are picked to integrate Central High School (CHS). Every day until graduation, the white students, teachers, and their family and friends pick on and beat up on the Little Rock Nine. Not all continue to fight for the cause; Melba’s best friend gets expelled then goes off to a school in New York. Melba makes one secret friend, a white boy named Link, who tells her what the other white students are planning to do to her so she can prepare herself to escape injury. Her 101st bodyguard, Danny also coaches her so she can keep herself from getting hurt physically. Grandma India gives Melba the advice and wisdom she needs to get by and not quit. These people support her until she finds her own strength and warrior within. She graduates under the threat of death then goes to a college with white people. Freedom is a function of school equity, and though Melba does not have either when integrating CHS, she fights strongly to receive equity to get freedom. An equal education is an equal opportunity people thought was worth fighting for.

Education and integration give opportunities to take a step forward for freedom. Melba says, “back then, I naively believed that if we could end segregation in schools, all barriers of inequality would fall.” (p. 3) These barriers did not fall so she still experienced school inequity even while she was integrating CHS. Integration is the merging of different races as equals into a community of individuals. She doesn’t receive educational equity until she goes to San Francisco State University. Even though she wasn’t treated equally, Melba still defines freedom as school equity, education for African Americans, and being mixed by race and privilege, but also says, “The task that remains is to cope with our interdependence-to see ourselves reflected in every other human being and to respect and honor our differences.” (p. 312) Freedom means equity and peace for all, where everyone is equal and humble.

The Little Rock integration was a first step to making an equal education for African Americans possible, but unfortunately just forcing school integration wasn’t enough for anyone to accept it. Before integration started, there was a court case, Brown v. Board of Education, telling Governor Faubus that integration was to start. He didn’t want to integrate because he was afraid that African Americans would become equal to white people, so he told the state police instead of protecting the Little Rock Nine they were not to let them into the school. Integration was hard for African Americans in Arkansas. They were losing their jobs, getting beaten up, and being killed because the court ruled that nine brave students were equal. In her story Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba tells how she fights the big battles of court cases and just getting through the doors of CHS, but also fights the small ones that she runs into every day at school. The white students kick her, punch her, taunt her and pick on her. She and her grandma notice that, “White folks ain’t never given us nothing. Getting from them’s been like pulling dinosaur teeth. We gotta grab everything we can, and most times pat with your blood. You just move right along, girl, you hear me. You integrate now.” (p. 70) Instead of just her and the other eight students being alone in this battle, African American communities fight for the right to be equal as well by supporting the Little Rock Nine so other African American students they themselves can have a better education. School integration didn’t give Melba an equal education, but it was a step towards an equal education for African Americans in the future and others as well. She felt that “working for integration was the right thing for me to be doing.” (p. 89) These struggles for equal rights were also fought by other ethnicities and racial groups like the Mexican Americans.

The Mendez family fought for educational equity and integration as well. Along with other Mexican American families they were tired of being compared to dogs on signs that said they weren’t allowed in stores and restaurants. The Mexican American families in Orange County sued school districts in the lawsuit, Mendez v. Westminster, for segregating schools and other areas of town. Even though Gonzalo Mendez went to Westminster when he was a kid his children were not allowed to. When Gonzalo Mendez tried to enroll his children in Westminster Elementary, his sister still remembers, “The day in 1943 when 8 year old Sylvia and her younger brothers were turned away from Westminster Elementary because of their dark skin and Spanish last name.” (Hendricks) Integration in California was just as hard as in Little Rock. The school allowed Sylvia and her siblings go to Westminster after the district realized that her father was pursuing it in court. “But he said, ‘Forget it. I’m going to do this for everybody. He decided to keep fighting.” (Hendricks) Just like Melba he didn’t give up.

America’s fight for integration and freedom did not end with the battles in California or Arkansas. Segregation still exists today, from whom you sit with at lunch to who can go to which school and get which job. People are not doing anything about it because they do not realize that schools are being segregated, and so a hierarchy of segregation persists. The first level of segregation is by wealth. Poor performing schools in low-income areas, are mainly made up of non-white students because they are “segregated by poverty.”(Orfield) Then next level is by race within minority communities and schools. The schools are self-segregated by race first and then by popularity. Once segregated by economics, “everyone is poor, teachers transfer out as soon as they can, parents are powerless, and gangs sometimes shape the environment of the community.”(Orfield) In order to have freedom in America, school equity and integration are needed now, or else the freedom Melba and Mendez fought for will have done nothing for this generation.





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