Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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Student Question

Why, based on Beals's experiences in Warriors Don't Cry, might some African Americans have opposed her efforts to integrate Central High?

Quick answer:

In Warriors Don't Cry, Melba Beals reveals that some African Americans did not support the integration of Central High School because they feared that the students were endangering themselves, their families, and the community. Some people thought that attending previously all-white schools would mean abandoning Black schools and taking resources away from improving those schools. Many feared the publicity and likely negative repercussions, including violence.

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When Melba Pattillo and eight other African American adolescents, along with their families, decided the students would attend Central High School, they already understood that their decision would not be endorsed by everyone and that their critics could be of any race. In Warriors Don't Cry, Beals discusses a variety of reasons that opposition came from African American as well as white people, in both her own age group and adults. The reasons for Black opposition ranged from criticism of the students for rejecting their own community, fear or violent reprisals, and the decreasing resources for the Black schools. Their apprehension increased as the national publicity drew unwanted attention to Little Rock.

Although the students who became as the Little Rock Nine received widespread support across the nation, the situation was extremely tense within the school, city, and state. They found that some of their former classmates resented them, seeing their actions as selfishly ambitious or indicating their rejection of their peers and community. This accusation was often phrased as being “uppity.” A related concern was harassment and violence, as many expressed their fear not only that the integrating students would be harmed, but that the reprisals would encompass their families and community. As the national publicity grew and violent incidents increased, their fear likewise grew, and the students rather than the attackers were sometimes considered responsible.

To many, this effort at integration seemed a small step that was unlikely to lead to major positive advances for Black students’ education overall. As African Americans were well aware that the segregationist “separate but equal” policies were anything but equal. They were concerned that allowing Black students into the resource-rich white schools would become an excuse for city officials not to improve, or slash the budgets of, the already under-funded Black schools.

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