Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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Instances of Racism Faced by Melba in Warriors Don't Cry


Melba faces numerous instances of racism in Warriors Don't Cry, including verbal abuse, physical attacks, and threats against her life. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she endures hostile mobs, discriminatory treatment from students and teachers, and even experiences violent incidents like being sprayed with acid. These experiences highlight the intense resistance to desegregation in 1950s America.

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What are two instances of Melba facing racism, directly or indirectly, in Warriors Don't Cry?

In her autobiography, Warriors Don’t Dry, Melba Pattillo Beals tells about her experiences integrating into Little Rock High School in 1957. The book is a moving narrative about the impact of racism and the importance of justice for everyone.

Because of the time period in American history (especially in Arkansas), Beals, her family, and the eight other teens who integrate the high school suffer numerous racist episodes. She explains how she and her family “felt as though we always had a white foot pressed against the back of our necks" (7).

She discusses realizing when she was just four years old that there was a distinct difference between services offered for whites and “colored” people. She describes these differences as:

the ugly drinking fountains, the dingy restrooms, and the back of buses.

There are several specific examples of racism throughout the book. The first occurs when she is born and a nurse refuses to follow the doctor’s orders. She has a high temperature after an injury that occurred during delivery. The nurse is supposed to irrigate the wound with warm water and Epsom salts, but she refuses to. Melba is lucky that a black janitor mentions the orders and she is able to survive.

Another example occurs later in her life after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas is announced. A white man is angry that the government will now require integration in schools. He doesn't want his children going to school with black children. Because of his anger, he tries to rape thirteen-year-old Melba while she is on her way home:

I crept forward, and then I saw him—a big white man, even taller than my father, broad and huge, like a wrestler. He was coming toward me fast

He tries to lure her into his car with promises of candy and a ride home, but she refuses and begins to run:

My heart was racing almost as fast as my feet. I couldn’t hear anything except for the sound of my saddle shoes pounding the ground and the thud of his feet close behind me....My cries for help drowned out the sound of his words, but he laughed and said it was no use because nobody would hear me. (25)

Luckily, she is saved by an older girl, Marissa, who makes sure that she gets home safely.

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Where did Melba first experience racism in Warriors Don't Cry?

Melba first experienced racism at birth.  There was a problem with her delivery because she was a good-sized baby; the doctor who delivered her used forceps and injured her scalp.  A few days later, Melba developed an infection at the forceps site.  At the white hospital in Arkansas which "reluctantly treated the families of black men who worked on the railroad", a doctor operated to insert a drainage system beneath the infant Melba's scalp.

Twenty-four hours later, Melba's condition had not improved, but Melba's mother could not find any medical personnel who would take her concerns seriously.  Melba soon developed a high fever and began convulsing, and her mother and grandmother believed she was going to die.  Just by accident, Melba's mother learned from a black janitor who had been present during the baby's operation that the doctor had told his white nurse that Melba's head must be irrigated with Epsom salts and warm water every two or three hours after the procedure.  Mother confronted the nurse, who admitted that what the janitor had said was true, but rationalized her negligence by muttering, "we don't coddle niggers".  Melba's mother performed the Epsom salt treatments herself, and the infant Melba survived (Chapter 1).

Raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, Melba continued to live in an atmosphere of racism.  As a toddler, she could sense the fear that her parents and other adults in her life experienced whenever they were among white people.  By the time she was four, she "was asking questions neither (her) mother nor grandmother cared to answer", about why "all the ugly drinking fountains, the dingy restrooms, and the back of buses" were reserved for 'Colored'" (Chapter 2).

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