LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the nine black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957, told a group of teenage girls Tuesday that they still need to guard against racism and what she described as willful ignorance today.
Trickey, 67, said she sees white and black students in the classrooms of the school she fought to attend, choosing to seat themselves in groups of blacks and whites and associate with students of the same race. A lack of diversity in people's personal lives breeds ignorance, she said, and ignorance _ especially willful ignorance _ breeds racism.
“We never got integration,'' she said. “We got a measure of desegregation.''
Trickey spoke to participants in the Cinderella Princess Leadership program of the Safe Places advocacy and support center, which works to provide teenage girls with the tools to become leaders at their schools and combat racism, violence and drug abuse. Her remarks emphasized that the lessons from 1957 are still being taught, but not often learned.
Trickey and eight other black students were escorted by federal soldiers into the all-white Central High School that year, becoming known as the “Little Rock Nine,'' and their fight to desegregate the school was a key stage in the civil rights movement.
She told the teen girls that the election of Barack Obama as president last year evoked the same type of response culturally as her efforts years ago.
“Our going to Central had the same kind of shock value … of causing Americans to look at themselves, and the world to look at the U.S.,'' Trickey said.
She said the need for diversity in people's lives has never been stronger, and lamented the relative lack of diversity even today in Little Rock, where blacks and whites socialize separately though they may attend classes and work together, and other minority groups are represented only in tiny numbers. She contrasted that with the advantages enjoyed by her children, raised in northern Ontario, who were able to choose a school with students from a broad range of ethnic and social backgrounds.
She told the youngsters that the principles of nonviolence taught by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, who led the fight for India's independence from Great Britain, are as useful in everyday lives as they are in great causes.
Combating violence, she said, isn't always a matter of standing up to the bullies of the world.
“We can't stomp all the bullies, but we can comfort the victims,'' Trickey said.
Speaking out _ and comforting the victims _ can be more important than any physical response, Trickey said. She said that when she and her eight black colleagues were at Little Rock Central, there were “20 nice (white) kids _ and they got beaten up for it _ 75 bad kids and 1,900-plus silent witnesses.''
Pictured above is Minnijean Brown Trickey.