White Is A State of Mind
28 Nov, 2019

White Is A State of Mind

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading White Is A State of Mind White Is a State of Mind by Melba Pattillo Beals
on March 15, 1999
Pages: 338
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Putnam Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

In 1957, while most teenage girls were listening to Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue," watching Elvis gyrate, and having slumber parties, fifteen-year-old Melba Pattillo was escaping the hanging rope of a lynch mob, dodging lighted sticks of dynamite, and washing away the burning acid sprayed into her eyes by segregationists determined to prevent her from integrating Little Rock's Central High School - caught up in the center of a civil rights firestorm that stunned this nation and altered the course of history. Her critically acclaimed and award-winning memoir Warriors Don't Cry chronicled her junior year in high school, the year President Eisenhower took unprecedented, historic action by sending federal troops to escort Melba and her eight black classmates into a previously all-white school. Now, in answer to the often repeated question "What happened next?" Melba has written White Is a State of Mind. Compelled to flee the violent rage percolating in her hometown, young Melba was brought by the NAACP to a safe haven in Santa Rosa, California. This is the story of how she survived - healed from the wounds inflicted on her by an angry country. It is the inspirational story of how she overcame that anger with the love and support of the white family who took her in and taught her she didn't have to yearn for the freedom she assumed she could never really have because of the color of her skin. They taught her that white is a state of mind - that she could alter her state of mind to claim fully her own freedom and equality.

Goodreads

After reading Melba Patillo’s memoir of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School, I wanted to know more details about what happened next.  Instead of letting the black teenagers have a second year in Central High, the governor closed the high schools.  This lead to increasing anger towards the families that were involved in the integration from both white and black families.  Melba finally had to flee the state when a bounty was placed on her by Klan members.

Let’s talk about how she found out about this.  Her mother had a cousin who was passing as white.  That wasn’t that unusual at the time.  In fact, she had several relatives passing.  But this man was not only married to an unsuspecting white woman and had kids who thought they were all white, he was the sheriff of a small southern town and the head of the local KKK.  You read that right.  A black man was head of the local KKK.  He found out about the bounty on his little cousin and called the family to alert them (presumably before putting the word out to his members).  I want to know more about this.  I want a whole book about him and then I want that book turned into a miniseries.  Somebody make that happen.

She is taken to a safe house in California.  The NAACP there was mostly made up of white liberals.  It gets cringey.  They want so badly to be helpful but they can’t understand why she was terrified.  She came from an environment where she was only safe with (some) black people and now she is surrounded by white people.  It was complete culture shock for her.

She came from a world where survival consumed everyone’s thoughts.  She had never had the experience of planning to go do something just because it might be fun.  She couldn’t relate to teenagers with seemingly trivial concerns.  On the other hand, once she saw that a better life was possible, she couldn’t fit in with the survival mentality in Little Rock.  She also had to face discrimination from black people in California who looked down on her for being southern.  

She didn’t have an easy life but learned gradually to stand up for herself.  

Warriors Don’t Cry
22 Oct, 2019

Warriors Don’t Cry

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Warriors Don’t Cry Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals
on February 1, 1995
Pages: 336
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Washington Square Press
Format: Audiobook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

The landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, brought the promise of integration to Little Rock, Arkansas, but it was hard-won for the nine black teenagers chosen to integrate Central High School in 1957. They ran the gauntlet between a rampaging mob and the heavily armed Arkansas National Guard, dispatched by Governor Orval Faubus to subvert federal law and bar them from entering the school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by sending in soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, the elite "Screaming Eagles" - and transformed Melba Pattillo and her eight friends into reluctant warriors on the battlefield of civil rights. May 17, 1994, marks the fortieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which was argued and won by Thurgood Marshall, whose passion and presence emboldened the Little Rock struggle. Melba Pattillo Beals commemorates the milestone decision in this first-person account of her ordeal at the center of the violent confrontation that helped shape the civil rights movement. Beals takes us from the lynch mob that greeted the terrified fifteen-year-old to a celebrity homecoming with her eight compatriots thirty years later, on October 23, 1987, hosted by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in the mansion that Faubus built. As they returned to tour the halls of the school, gathering from myriad professions and all corners of the country, they were greeted by the legacy of their courage - a bespectacled black teenager, the president of the student body at Central High. Beals chronicles her harrowing junior year at Central High, when she began each school day by polishing her saddle shoes and bracing herself for battle.

Goodreads

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You’ve seen the pictures of the Little Rock Nine being escorted into the school by soldiers and the famous picture above of the angry mob around Elizabeth Eckford. What I never heard about or considered was what happened after they got into the school. I guess I thought that everything was fine once they got inside. It absolutely wasn’t. This is that story.

I listened to the audiobook of this story. It is brutal. Every day after listening I was completely disgusted with white people. I’d tell the white people I work with all about what I had learned that day so they could be mad at our fellow white people with us. I proposed a road trip to Arkansas to beat up some elderly white people but no one has taken me up on it so far. That’s only because they haven’t read the book. If they had, they’d get over their reservations and join me in giving some old people some well deserved whuppings.

All day long the white kids in the school tormented the black students. It was completely ignored by the adults. That’s what amazes me the most. The adults seemed to give up control of the school. I understand that most of them wanted the black students gone too but you’d think that they would at least try to keep some order during classes. They didn’t. It seems like the whole school was ruled by packs of students.

On the first day the teenagers were in school a mob was threatening the school. There was actually talk by the adults in charge of giving one of the students to the mob to be lynched in order to settle them down. They discussed this in front of the kids.

Beatings happened daily. They were kicked all the time. White kids tried to set Melba on fire several times and she had acid thrown in her face. Lit dynamite was thrown at them in the hallways. I don’t know how many textbooks they went through because white students destroyed them routinely. This went on EVERY DAY FOR A WHOLE SCHOOL YEAR. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine living through it and I can’t imagine hating anyone or anything so much that I could keep that level of abuse up for a whole school year.

Melba credits her family with the strength to get through.  This is where I differ with her interpretation a bit.  Her grandmother was a very religious woman who kept saying that god was in control of everything.  As a non-Christian, this grated on me.  I think it would have been better for the adults in her life to help stand up for her in any way they could (which admittedly was very little) instead of spouting platitudes.  Melba did embrace these and gained strength from them so I’m glad it helped her.  As a reader though they made me grind my teeth in frustration.

At the end of the book she talks a little about her perspective on the experience in retrospect.  She says that she would have never put her own kids into that kind of abusive situation.  That was something I wondered about.  The cause was good and just but what they went through was child abuse.  They sacrificed their mental and physical health for integration.  There is a second book that discusses what happened in her life after this hell year.  I’m going to read that.  She was definitely damaged by the experience. 

I would also like to read about this from the perspective of some of the white people.  I kept trying to get into their minds and figure out how they were possibly justifying any of this.  I can’t make that mental leap.  I’d love to just be able to ask, “What the hell were you even thinking?” 

This is a book I want to put into the hands of everyone.  These teenagers were amazing.  They took unimaginable abuse from both the white and black community.  This is history that we can’t forget. 

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