Friday, August 31, 2012

Elizabeth and Hazel

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick is a story that began on September 4, 1957. Nine colored students set out to enter Little Rock, Arkansas' Central High School to comply with desegregation orders. One of those known as The Little Rock Nine was Elizabeth Eckford. A news reporter snapped a photograph with a Kodak Brownie camera. Actually he snapped lots of photos as Arkansas National Guardsmen prevented Elizabeth from entering the school, then stood idle as other students and adults started following her, taunting her with racial slurs and expletives.

Hazel Bryan was immortalized on that photo, standing behind Elizabeth, caught mid-scream, mouth wide open, her face twisted with rage. The local newspaper published the photo the following day. Two other photos of the same scene,  taken from different angles by other photographers were also soon published.

Even for 1957, it amazes me that one of the black students, Minnijean, was "expelled for calling one of her harrassers 'white trash." Yet none of the white students were expelled for constant harrassment (hitting Elizabeth in the head with a thrown brick, pushing Elizabeth down a flight of stairs and more) and calling the black students "N*gg**'. One of Elizabeth's classmates that sat behind her in a class, would keep repeating the word, over and over throughout the class period.

Later when Elizabeth attended Knox College, she would "drink at a local bar, and then, lest her house mother discove her slinking back after hours, spend the night in the ladies' room at the local train station."

In an interview in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Louis Armstrong was asked about Little Rock by Larry Lubenow. Lubenow "could not believe Armstrong's angry response."

"It's getting almost so bad a colored man hasn't got a country..." (Armstrong)

When Lubenow had to prove to his editor that he had indeed spoken to Armstrong, the men posed for a photo while Scatchmo was shaving. Lubelow was cropped out of the published image with a caption "Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong, who got all lathered up about segregation here Wednesday."

Then Governor Faubus claimed that Elizabeth was a tool used by Communists, that the entire incident with Hazel (and an angry mob of white students, adults, indifferent National Guardsmen looking on) was staged. He claimed that Elizabeth had been carefully coached, and  "followed these instructions to the letter". Sadly I do not think many of today's elected officials, even in high levels of government, are much more intelligent that Faubus was back then.

Many years later, Hazel confided to her husband that it would be nice if there was a second photo of her and Elizabeth.
"By putting ideas out to the universe, Hazel believed, one could sometimes bring things to pass..."

Hazel had contacted Elizabeth to apologize, and the two became friends for a while. Hazel overcame the bigoted attitudes in which she was raised. Elizabeth suffered from life long Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hazel and Elizabeth is an interesting story yet the book did not sustain my interest.

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