Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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Student Question

In Warriors Don't Cry, what surprised you most about the actions of white people opposed to integration, and how did it compare to your expectations and those of Beals and her family?

Quick answer:

This question depends on your personal opinion, but a reader might be surprised by the intensity and immediacy of the actions of the white people who opposed integration.

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What one finds most surprising about the actions of white people opposed to integration will depend on the person and their knowledge of the events that Melba Beals articulates in her memoir Warriors Don’t Cry. For those familiar with the desegregation of Central High School and the hate and brutality that it spawned, the abhorrent behavior of white people might not come across as unexpected. Many historical texts, documentaries, and so on highlight the racist animosity that Beals and the other Black students faced.

However, even if one came to Beals’s autobiography with some awareness of the horror that the nine Black students met, one could still be taken aback by the intensity and the proximity of the vitriol. Those who opposed integration did not spew their hate from a distance. They let the Black students know what they thought of them up close. The confrontations in the halls, the repeated use of the n-word, and the teachers’ silence about the contemptuous conduct of the whites might qualify as jarring for a fair amount of readers.

As for Beals, her family, and their community, the violence frightens them and makes them uneasy. At the same time, Beals addresses the fact that this mistreatment doesn’t represent a break from past norms. In a way, it’s expected. “All my life, I had felt unprotected by city officials,” Beals states. She brings up the example of firefighters. If a fire happened in their community, the white firefighters invariably “took their time coming to help.” They didn’t try to save them or their property.

One could also note how Beals specifically handles repugnant intolerance. At times, she seems to deal with it by using her sense of humor. A racist white woman snarls at her, “Next thing, you’ll want to marry one of our children.” This leads to some levity on Beals’s part. She mentions how she isn’t even allowed to date. She then wonders, “Why would I choose to marry one of these mean Little Rock white people?”

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