Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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Student Question

What event from Link's past made him more accepting of African American students at Central High? How does he feel about this?

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Link is a student who dared to be Melba’s friend and actually become one her protectors. What event from Link’s background made him more open to African American students being at Central High School? What are his feelings toward his opinion? Link, like a lot of Southern white children at the time, was raised by a black nanny. In his case, it was Nana Healey. Nana is a kind, caring, considerate lady who takes very good care of Link. He loves her deeply and develops a very close bond with her. In a way, she provides a connection for Link with other African Americans.

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Link, like a lot of Southern white children at the time, was raised by a black nanny. In his case, it was Nana Healey. Nana is a kind, caring, considerate lady who takes very good care of Link. He loves her deeply and develops a very close bond with her. In a way, she provides a connection for Link with other African Americans. As a white boy growing up in a segregated community, Link does not have many opportunities to connect with those of a different race. His bond of love with Nana gives him a rare glimpse into another way of life and a different culture.

His subsequent friendship with Melba and his acceptance of African American students at school are rooted in his love for Nana. He has witnessed firsthand that—despite what his father might say or what Southern society thinks—people are really all the same underneath. Yet, there is still more than a hint of ambiguity in Link's attitudes. Nana occupies a lowly position in society, one in keeping with her gender and race. As such, she fits comfortably into Link's world without ever really challenging its underlying preconceptions. Although Link can relate to Nana on a personal level, there will always be an insuperable barrier between them no matter how much he truly cares for her.

This ambiguity spills over into how Link acts toward Melba. He shows her great kindness; in fact, he is the only white student at the High School who does. All the same, he wants to keep his romantic feelings for her a secret and this puts Melba on guard. Link seems more interested in holding on to his privileged position in white society than acting on his true feelings.

Even the death of Nana does not allow Link to break free from his past and reveal his friendship with Melba. Overwhelmed by grief, he wants to run away with Melba to the North, hoping that they can start over in a less hostile climate. However, warriors do not cry or run. Melba knows that running away would allow racism to win. She also senses that Link is running away, not just from the town, but also his fears. In contrast, Melba is showing immense courage in the face of fear by running the gauntlet of a white supremacist mob when she goes to school each day.

Link's attitude towards Melba, though well-meaning, is ultimately somewhat condescending. He sees her in the role of victim, someone needing to be protected, as opposed to a fully-fledged human being endowed with the same rights as him. He shows a degree of bravery in standing up to white supremacist violence, but he lacks the courage to challenge the underlying structures of power and race that give rise to such violence in the first place.

Ironically, it was his loving relationship with Nana which led directly to Link's adoption of such a morally ambiguous and complex position. He loved Nana dearly, but he never really saw her as an equal. His connection to her was a deeply personal one, just like his friendship with Melba. However, Link, unlike Melba, is not prepared to connect the personal to the political, and as a result, he cannot truly begin to confront and overcome the repressive society in which he still faintly hopes to find a place.

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