Warriors Don’t Cry Summary

Melba Pattillo Beals

Warriors Don’t Cry

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Warriors Don’t Cry Summary

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Warriors Don’t Cry is a 1997 memoir by Melba Pattillo Beals, detailing the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It outlines Pattillo’s experiences as one of the first African American students to attend the school.

The book opens with The Little Rock Nine returning to the site of the high school where they became the first African American students to attend a previously segregated school after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of integration in 1954 Melba explains that in 1957, the school became a flash point for racial tension and the civil rights movement in Arkansas.

Melba was twelve years old when the Brown v. Board of Education ruling came down though, at first, she saw no change. She attended an all black school for the rest of that year but signed up to attend a white school the next year. She was one of sixteen students to do so, but violence was brewing in response to the proposed change, and the number of students later dropped to nine.

Lawsuits continue to be fought until a few days before the school term starts. Governor Faubus declares that he will send the Arkansas National Guard to the school, but it’s unclear if he intends to help or hinder desegregation. Melba’s grandmother, India stays awake at night with a shotgun. Everyone is on edge in the days before school is set to begin. Then, a few days after school starts, Judge Ronald Davies rules that the Little Rock school system cannot prevent the black students’ from entering a white school.

On Melba’s first day, a huge mob has gathered at the school by the time she and her mother arrive, and the National Guard is encircling the school. They manage to escape, and Melba tells her grandmother that she wants to go back to her old school. Her grandmother responds by reminding her that she isn’t a quitter.

Governor Faubus meets with President Eisenhower to try to come to a peaceful agreement, but the meeting is unsuccessful. The state of Arkansas goes before Judge Davies again, and he rules that the National Guard must be removed from the school grounds and the students allowed to enter the school.

That Monday, Melba and the other black students go to school. Another mob has gathered, and in the middle of class, Melba and the others are forced to flee to the principle’s office when the mob breaks through the barricade. Someone in the office proposes giving the crowd one child to kill so the others can escape, but the assistant chief of police smuggles all nine of them out.

The next day, Melba stays home. President Eisenhower pledges to send in the military to protect the students and prevent mob rule. The next day, the 101st Airborne Division arrives. Each child is assigned a protector that accompanies him or her everywhere. Melba’s soldier, Danny, protects her from an acid attack. A few months later, some of the students attempt to meet with white students to foster understanding, but that meeting fails as well.

Melba is attacked in the showers by a group of white girls who hold her under scalding hot water. President Eisenhower withdraws the military, and the students are forced to rely on the National Guard for protection. The state attorney begins threatening NAACP chapters across the state.

One of the students, Minnijean is attacked in the lunchroom and throws chili on two of the boys who attacked her. She is suspended but eventually allowed to return to school. When she is attacked again, she is expelled for fighting. The NAACP put together a scholarship for her to attend high school in New York.

Melba is attacked in the same fashion, but she is saved by a boy named Link. He gives her keys to his car so that she can escape and she returns his car later that night. They become friends while Judge Davies is removed from all further suits and replaced by an Arkansas judge.

Melba and Link find help for his black nanny, whom he believes has tuberculosis. The integration case is reopened, with the new judge presiding, and Melba’s mother is nearly fired from her teaching job because Melba refuses to quit the white school. It is close to the end of the school year, and the segregationists are working hard to prevent the oldest student, Ernie, from graduating. They don’t succeed and Ernie graduates after all.

Link calls Melba in tears saying that Nana Healey has died, and he wants Melba to leave Little Rock with him. She agrees but knows that she will not follow through on her promise.  After school ends, the nine go on a tour of the northern states where they are treated as heroes. However, the integration efforts in Little Rock are crumbling.

The new judge grants the state a delay of three years for integration and the NAACP responds by introducing a new round of lawsuits. The students prepare to enter high school, and the governor responds by shutting down all high schools in Little Rock. Melba’s grandmother dies from leukemia while she is waiting to return to school.

By 1959, the NAACP decides that the strain on the families is too great and begins to relocate the students to different parts of the country. Melba goes to college and goes on to get married. She and Link do not talk after her marriage. The book ends with her assertion that we are all one, regardless of skin color.

Melba’s experience may seem foreign to us now, but the story of her courage and perseverance for a just cause, even in the face of personal danger, is one that we can admire. Melba and her fellow African-American students pushed through massive, frightening circumstances to help change the face of American education, and further the goal of equality for all.