As I continue working on the sequel to The Red Kimono, (tentatively titled Broken Dreams) I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve found in my research for this historical fiction that takes place from 1957 to 1963.
My story opens as the Little Rock Nine attempt to enter Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1957. So, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about the event and those who were involved.
It’s hard to say who I found most fascinating, but probably the person most recognizable is one of the nine black students, Elizabeth Eckford.
Two thoughts enter my mind as I look at this photograph:
- I’m in awe of Elizabeth Eckford’s courage, and ask myself if I could have been so brave. As I wonder how fast her heart must have been beating, the knots in her stomach, how she must have wanted to cry, but forced herself not to, my answer is, probably not.
- I’m saddened by and in disbelief of the pure hatred expressed in the face of the white woman screaming at Elizabeth Eckford. I wondered what became of her, and what kind of life she led after the photograph became famous worldwide.
Today, I found an article titled “The Many Lives of Hazel Bryan.” That was the name of the woman yelling in the picture. This article discusses her later years. She and Elizabeth Eckford actually met and became friends. However, you may wish to read the article (and perhaps too, David Margolick’s book, Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock) to read the rest of the story.
I’ve also been reading Daisy Bates’ memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, (republished in 1988 by the University of Arkansas Press, which also published The Red Kimono.) As you may know, Daisy Bates was President of the Little Rock Chapter of the NAACP and led the nine students into Little Rock Central High School with the help of federal troops sent by President Eisenhower.
In her memoir, she recalls a conversation she had with Elizabeth Eckford, about that day forever captured in the photograph. As I read the passage, I felt once again, the cruelty of the day, and the courage it took to get through it.
Elizabeth Eckford told Daisy Bates:
I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the mob, someone who maybe would help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me. They came closer, shouting, “No nigger bitch is going to get in our school. Get out of here.”
It’s true, we are capable of hateful acts. I’m grateful for books like The Long Shadow of Little Rock, not only because they help us to remember. They also help us to experience–even if only through words–the hurt and fear on the other side of hate.