“I am Elizabeth Eckford. I am part of the group that became known as the Little Rock Nine. Prior to the [de]segregation of Central, there had been one high school for whites, Central High School; one high school for blacks, Dunbar. I expected that there may be something more available to me at Central that was not available at Dunbar; that there might be more courses I could pursue; that there were more options available. I was not prepared for what actually happened.
I was more concerned about what I would wear, whether we could finish my dress in time…what I was wearing was that okay, would it look good. The night before when the governor went on television and announced that he had called out the Arkansas National Guard, I thought that he had done this to insure the protection of all the students. We did not have a telephone, so inadvertently we were not contacted to let us know that Daisy Bates of NAACP had arranged for some ministers to accompany the students in a group. And so, it was I that arrived alone.
On the morning of September 4th, my mother was doing what she usually did. My mother was making sure everybody’s hair looked right and everybody had their lunch money and their notebooks and things. But she did finally get quiet and we had family prayer. I remember my father walking back and forth. My father worked at night and normally he would have been asleep at that time, but he was awake and he was walking back and forth chomping on cigar that wasn’t lit.
I expected that I would go to school as before on a city bus. So, I walked a few blocks to the bus stop, got on the bus, and rode to within two blocks of the school. I got off the bus and I noticed along the street that there were many more cars than usual. And I remember hearing the murmur of a crowd. But, when I got to the corner where the school was, I was reassured seeing these soldiers circling the school grounds. And I saw students going to school. I saw the guards break ranks as students approached the sidewalks so that they could pass through to get to school. And I approached the guard at the corner as I had seen some other students do and they closed ranks. So, I thought; ‘Maybe I am not supposed to enter at this point.’ So, I walked further down the line of guards to where there was another sidewalk and I attempted to pass through there. But when I stepped up, they crossed rifles. And again I said to myself; ‘So maybe I’m supposed to go down to where the main entrance is.’ So, I walked toward the center of the street and when I got to about the middle and I approached the guard he directed me across the street into the crowd. It was only then that I realized that they were barring me, that I wouldn’t go to school.”
– Elizabeth Eckford
Sources: Photograph is of Elizabeth attempting to enter Little Rock Central High School on September 4th, 1957. Distributed by the Associated Press and published in numerous newspapers in 1957 – Wikimedia Commons / https://