The small band of students who bravely faced prejudice and abuse simply to attend school and receive an equal education did not start out as the Little Rock Nine but now that is how they are known. This valiant group of young people is in America’s history books together. It is interesting to note that the nine students are unanimous in stating that the true heroes of the crisis at Little Rock Central High School were their parents. They all say they could not have persevered without their parents who supported them and kept the faith that the process was right and that what they endured would give them the opportunities they deserved. Here is a brief glimpse at these former students and what they are doing today:
• Ernest Green-He became the first black student to graduate from Central High School in 1958. He later graduated from Michigan State University and served as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Jimmy Carter. He is currently a managing partner and vice president of Lehman Brothers in Washington, D.C.
• Elizabeth Eckford-She is the only one of the nine still living in Little Rock. Elizabeth made a career of the U.S. Army that included her work as a journalist. She returned to the home in which she grew up in 1974 and is now a part-time social worker and mother of two sons.
• Jefferson Thomas-He was finally able to graduate from Central in 1960, following a year in which Little Rock’s public high schools were ordered closed by the legislature to prevent desegregation. He is now an accountant with the U.S. Department of Defense and lives in Anaheim, Calif.
• Dr. Terrence Roberts-Following his historic year at Central, his family moved to Los Angeles where he completed high school. He then earned a doctorate degree and teaches at the University of California at Los Angeles and Antioch College. He also works as a clinical psychologist.
• Carlotta Walls Lanier-She is one of only three of the nine who eventually graduated from Central High, when she and Jefferson Thomas returned for their senior year in 1959. She then went on to graduate from Michigan State University and presently lives in Englewood, Colorado, where she is in real estate.
• Minnijean Brown Trickey- Although all of the Nine endured verbal and physical harassment during their time at Central, Minnijean Brown was the only one to respond. She was first suspended and then expelled for retaliating against the daily torment. One incident is told of her dropping her lunch tray with a bowl of chili on two white boys and, later, by referring to a white girl who hit her as “white trash.” Brown moved with her family to New York City and graduated from New Lincoln High School in 1959. Later after marrying she moved with her husband to Canada during the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and today is a writer and social worker in Ontario. Winterstar Productions has filmed a documentary on her life.
• Gloria Ray Karlmark-After graduating from high school she went on to graduate from Illinois Technical College and received a post-graduate degree in Stockholm, Sweden. She went on to become a prolific computer science writer and at one time successfully published magazines in 39 countries. She is now retired and divides her time between homes in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Stockholm, where her husband’s family lives.
• Thelma Mothershed-Wair-She went on to graduate from college and then made a career of teaching. She lives in Belleville, Illinois, where she is a volunteer in a program for abused women.
• Melba Pattillo Beals-She is an author and former journalist for People magazine and NBC and currently lives in San Francisco.