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How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Tomorrow we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, America’s great civil rights leader, but today I’d like to step back in time to 1957 to share the story of Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration ($8.95, Compass Point Books, ages 10 and up) by Shelley Tougas.

Imagine being a parent, sending your child off to school and then finding out that the National Guard was sent by your state’s governor to prevent your child from entering school? Shameful? Deplorable? Racist? Well this is precisely what happened to Elizabeth Eckford, an African-American, when she tried to attend Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas only 55 years ago.

The plan had been for Elizabeth to join eight other African-American students (forever to be known as the Little Rock Nine) selected because of their outstanding academic records to be the first to integrate the Little Rock high school. However Elizabeth never got the phone call and attempted to go to school on her own. Unaware of what opposition lay before her, Elizabeth exited her school bus and walked towards the entrance to school. Hateful shouts of  “Go home! Whites have rights too” greeted this fearful and stunned teenager.  Thinking the Arkansas National Guards were there to protect her, she soon saw them cross their rifles to prevent her from going through the school’s door! One kind looking woman who Elizabeth looked to for safety “lunged forward and spit on her.”

It took several weeks and the intervention of President Eisenhower to get those nine students into the school and it may have taken a lot longer had it not been for the photograph that was seen around the world.  Hometown boy, Will Counts, a budding photographic journalist from the Arkansas Democrat, captured a picture of Elizabeth Eckford walking just steps ahead of an angry mob, harassed in particular by Hazel Bryan, a white teenager.  This sad moment in our history exemplified the determination of locals to keep their schools segregated.  Tougas’s terrific book details the unbelievable story of these nine teenagers’ traumatic time seeking a public education that was their right and shows how powerful the medium of photography was in getting the message out to the public.

In just four chapters along with a timeline, glossary and additional resources section, Little Rock Girl 1957 is a must-have for any classroom and student interested in the story behind this amazing photograph and history-changing moment.

Part of the Captured History series of nonfiction middle grade books, Little Rock Girl 1957 has given me a broader perspective on these troubled times and will give student readers insight into the strength and courage displayed by the Little Rock Nine in the face of blatant discrimination and shocking, unlawful behavior.

This book was reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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