Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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What was Melba's grade and age when she started at Central High in Warriors Don't Cry?

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Melba started attending Central High School as a junior.  She was fifteen years old.

Melba was born on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.  She grew up at 1121 Cross Street in Little Rock, Arkansas, a small town where Jim Crow laws were firmly entrenched and bigotry against blacks was virulent.  Although the move towards integration was gradually making inroads in larger cities such as Cincinnati at this time, the white population in the more rural areas of the South were vehement in their determination that blacks be kept in their place as second-class citizens.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that separate public schools for whites and blacks were illegal.  Melba was twelve years old at the time of that momentous decision, and was attending the seventh grade at Dunbar Junior High.  The Supreme Court ruling mandated that black children be allowed access to the schools that white children attended, but on May 24, 1955, the Little Rock school board adopted a plan to limit integration to Central High School.  They would not allow integration to actually begin for two more years, in September, 1957.

In August of 1957, Melba learned that she had been selected to be among the first group of Negroes to attend Central High School in September.  Melba had signed a paper saying that she wished to attend Central High earlier, without her parents' knowledge.  Melba was fifteen years old, and about to enter the eleventh grade.  By being included in the pioneering group selected to end segregation in Little Rock, she found herself smack dab in the center of a violent and historical civil rights confrontation (Chapters 1-3).

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