You may not be familiar with the name Elizabeth Eckford, but at age 15 she became an unwitting participant in the historic battle to integrate America’s public schools by seeking to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. We think it is fitting to honor Eckford on this first day of Women’s History Month.
In 1957, several years after the Supreme Court mandated school integration, a group of nine African American teenagers sought to attend school at the formerly all-white Central High. They were met by angry mobs opposing integration who taunted and threatened them.
While eight of the teens tried to enter the school as a group on September 4, Eckford wasn’t among them. She had gotten off the bus alone after a mix-up in the students’ planned meeting place. As a result, she was forced to endure the protesters’ obscenities and chants of “Two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate” all by herself. She made her way to a bench at the end of the block after trying to enter the campus twice.
She and the remaining Little Rock Nine were eventually removed by the police, fearing for their safety. They were only admitted to the school weeks later, after President Dwight Eisenhower mobilized the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort them into the school. Many of the Nine – including Eckford – left Central High School after that first year to attend other schools.
In 2018, a commemorative bench was erected near the Central High School campus as a reminder of Eckford’s struggles in 1957. She has received many other prestigious awards including the Congressional Gold Medal, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, and the Humanitarian Award presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice. Eckford herself remains a strong proponent of tolerance in every aspect of life.
JNPA sells numerous publications that relate the story of the Little Rock Nine at the national park’s bookstore and online, including Remember Little Rock which features Elizabeth Eckford on the cover.