Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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Student Question

How did the 1957 school year in Warriors Don't Cry impact the African American students? How did Beals change?

Quick answer:

The African American students involved in the desegregation of Central High School were isolated and tormented. They faced intense bullying that robbed them of a normal adolescent experience. Melba grew angry, but she also grew tough and learned about perseverance and strength.

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Melba Pattillo Beal’s memoir Warriors Don’t Cry shows how the 1957 school year marked the end of adolescent innocence for the individual African American students involved. Beals and her African American peers were extremely isolated in their school. They were robbed of a typical high school experience and instead had to brace for verbal and physical assaults every day that they entered their school building. Recall how intense some of the bullying was, like how a boy got acid in Melba's eye or how a stick of dynamite was thrown at her. These are traumatic experiences that stayed with those who experienced them for the rest of their lives.

Beals’s experience made her angry and tough. Recall the scene in which she is upset that her family will not let her go to the community center. Grandma India tells her to stop crying because “God’s warriors don’t cry.” Beal comes to realize that what she is doing is greater than her individual experience and that she must toughen up and deal with losing her freedom because of the importance of what he is fighting for. But she is young, and that is easier said than done. Recall how on her sixteenth birthday she writes in her diary: “Please, God let me learn how to stop being a warrior. Sometimes I just need to be a girl.” This heartbreaking line reminds readers that Melba was just a kid when she was forced to be strong in this incredibly tough situation. When no one shows up to her birthday, Melba begins to realize that she has changed and that her childhood has gone away.

Melba also learns about perseverance and strength. Consider the scene in which her grandmother talks to her about Gandhi. Her grandmother explains:

“Fighting back is never the solution.”

“But I’m so angry I’m afraid it’s gonna swell up and explode.”

“Not likely … I wanted you to read about Gandhi … You think about all he accomplished without violence or anger.”

“Your grandmother is right,” Mother Lois said “You kick them every week you get through. And if you make it through the year, you’ve hit them with the biggest blow of all.”

Ultimately, Melba learns how to stifle her anger and to fight back against hatred by persevering. She did make it through the year, but with a more vivid understanding of how cruel humans can be than anyone should ever have to know.

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