DENVER — Fifty years after a move to desegregate schools in Little Rock Ark., nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, are encouraging a movement forward today to fight for justice and peace.
Sunday night at Congregation Emanuel in Denver, the Little Rock Nine reunited for the fifth time since 1958 to talk about their experiences and the need to move forward and encourage a continual fight for justice.
During the 1957-1958 school year, the young teenagers overcame daily torment and brutality from their white peers.
When the nine first tried entering Central High School in Little Rock on September 3, 1957, students and community members were in such an uproar that the governor called the Arkansas National Guard, who denied the black students entrance and temporarily shut down the school.
On September 24, 1957, 1,000 troops of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 101st Airborne division arrived at Central High where the nine black students were escorted inside and attended school for the first time, marking a turning point in history.
Many CSU students recognized the importance of remembering people in our history, including the Little Rock Nine, who have formed the patchwork of our nation.
“I think we can all learn a lot from each other,” said Nicole Sedgeley, a junior wildlife biology major, who couldn’t attend the event. “No matter if it’s because of our ethnicities or our backgrounds, we all have something to share with one another. The more people you meet throughout life I think the better you are in general,”
Marlon Blake, president of Black Definition at CSU, said students are largely apathetic because of privileges attained through the Civil Rights Movement.
“A lot of times all these people who did so much for us in the past, we forget about them and we don’t really appreciate what that have done for us right now,” Blake said.
“I think right now we are so comfortable in the setting that we have that we don’t want to fight for anything,” he added. “I think if you ask a lot of people what you would go to jail over’ there’s not a lot of people that would say they will go to jail over that right.”
Gary Kimsey, a historian and alumnus news editor for the Collegian, looks back on a couple of racially loaded riots at CSU when he attended the university from 1968 to 1973 in which students did go to jail for justice.
Kimsey said one riot in 1969 at a CSU basketball game against Brigham Young University erupted after the Mormon Church said blacks could not be deacons or hold a higher power in the church. The riot made national news and about a dozen CSU students were arrested, Kimsey said.
“It was the match that lit the fire for protesting at CSU,” Kimsey said.
In May of 1970, riots across the nation erupted after the National Guard shot five black students from Kent State University. Protests at CSU resulted in students burning down Old Main, the oldest building on campus, Kimsey said.
Kimsey said a black student alliance on campus was extremely active and wanted more diversity on campus, which was very difficult at the time.
“There were very few blacks that came to the university and most were athletes,” Kimsey said. “It was a very vanilla university.”
Kimsey said the Collegian also brought diversity into the limelight during the 60’s and 70’s.
“The Collegian over the years was always very active in bringing social issues to the forefront,” he said.
Although great strides have been made in the past to make better for the future, discrimination and prejudices still affect the nation today.
Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls LaNier and Dr. Terrence Roberts were three of the Little Rock Nine who spoke and discussed the need to reenergize a commitment to justice and described the power of love and education in moving forward.
“Love is the most powerful force in the universe,” Thomas said.
“Get your education,” Lanier said, quoting her mother. “No one can take it away from you,” “It’s time to look forward.”
“We still have a long way to go,” said Darcy Struckhoff, a student at the University of Denver who attended the event. “But you just need to look to them for an example and be inspired.”
“It’s going to take time,” said Thelma Mothershed Wair, another one of the Little Rock Nine, after the presentation. “I just hope it’s not another fifty years.”
Senior Reporter Kaeli West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.