on March 15, 1999
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Putnam Adult
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.
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.