Warriors Don't Cry

by Melba Pattillo Beals

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What role did the Screaming Eagles play in Warriors Don't Cry?

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The Screaming Eagles were an elite group of soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in 1957.  Having distinguished themselves during the Korean War, they were sent by President Eisenhower to Little Rock, Arkansas, to make sure that the integration of Central High School could be achieved.

Despite the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that having separate schools for whites and blacks was illegal, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided to defy the law.  The school board had already limited the move towards integration by postponing it for two years, and when it appeared that the change was going to be forced upon Little Rock, Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the pioneering group of students chosen to be the first Negroes to attend all-white Central High School from achieving their objective.  For two days the Negro students were unable to make it through the day because of the virulent, life-threatening treatment they received both within the school and from the angry hordes surrounding the school.  President Eisenhower, refusing to allow mob rule to prevail, challenged Faubus' defiance and sent in the Screaming Eagles to Little Rock to see that justice was done (Chapter 1). 

The Screaming Eagles arrived in fifty-two planeloads, and numbered twelve-thousand men.  They included famous heroes and combat specialists; they were armed with rifles and bayonets, and were supported by helicopters and jeeps.  They escorted the nine students from a predetermined meeting place to the school in a jeep convoy, and formed a human protective cocoon for them so that they could proceed through the front entrance to Central High.  Inside the building, soldiers stood guard at regular intervals down the halls, and the students were each assigned a soldier who was responsible to "keep (him or her) alive".  The soldiers were instructed to make the students got safely from class to class, but they were not allowed "to get into verbal or physical battles with...(white) students".  The individual guards were not allowed into the classroom with their charges, but waited outside to be near at hand should they be needed.

The Screaming Eagles maintained a presence at Central High for over two months.  When they were withdrawn at Thanksgiving, the National Guard took over the task of providing for the safety and security of the students (Chapter 13-14).

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