Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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Student Question

In Warriors Don't Cry, how do things change at Central High after the 101st Airborne Division's arrival?

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Once the soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are stationed at Central High, Melba and her friends find their tormentors no longer have the power to physically assault them with impunity. The soldiers make it possible for Melba and the members of the Little Rock Nine to attend classes. They keep the mob from harassing and physically attacking Melba and her friends.

In Chapter Eight, soldiers keep the mob back as Melba and her friends make their way to the entrance of Central High. They stand guard until the small group enters the building. Once inside the building, each member of the Little Rock Nine is assigned a soldier for his or her protection. A soldier then accompanies each student to class and waits outside the classroom for the student to finish the period. Melba and her friends are escorted everywhere, from gym class to the cafeteria.

Even though they are heckled by some white students, the atmosphere is different from the one in Chapter Seven. Before the 101st Airborne Division was at her school, Melba and her friends were physically attacked and cruelly taunted; they had no recourse to air their grievances. The thousand-strong mob in Chapter Seven even threatened the nine students' lives when they tried to attend classes.

Now, with the 101st Airborne Division in attendance, the mob has to think twice about attacking Melba and her friends. When another student slams Melba's books from her hands, soldiers close ranks around her to protect her. With more soldiers standing guard against the walls, Melba feels a little safer.

Because of the heavy security detail, white students who previously felt free to attack Melba and her friends soon resort to emotional attacks instead. They heckle and taunt the Little Rock Nine. In Chapter Nine, however, we discover the soldiers can only do so much for Melba and her friends. When Melba is kicked in the shins and stomach, Danny, the soldier assigned to Melba, tells her he can only keep her alive; he's not allowed to engage the white students in physical or verbal altercations. Despite the limitations imposed upon the soldiers, Melba realizes the presence of the soldiers make it possible for the Little Rock Nine to go to Central High, a school they previously could not attend.

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