BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Tougas

Little Rock Girl 1957Take a careful look at this book cover … no exaggeration that “a picture is worth a thousand words”!

The day is September 4, 1957 and 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford is on her way to her first day at Little Rock Central High School. “Nine African-American teenagers, who would forever be known as the Little Rock Nine, were supposed to arrive at the all-white high school … and make history together.” Meanwhile, Hazel Bryan, a white teenager, walks behind Elizabeth, “… her face twisted with rage. ‘Go home, n****r!’ she screamed. ‘Go back to Africa!'” At that moment, Will Counts, a newspaper photographer for the Arkansas Democrat, clicked the photo and made American history.

Little Rock Girl is one of six titles thus far in the Captured History series from Compass Point Books, which “explores how a single moment captured on film can influence society and change the course of history.” Indeed, author Shelley Tougas uses the powerful photograph to tell the story of the brave Little Rock Nine students and their pivotal participation in the long fight for integration. Tougas devotes the first chapter to Eckford whose first-day experience was even more frightful because she did not get the message the night before about the fateful morning’s plans.

Four decades later in 1997, President Bill Clinton held open the front doors of Central High for the Little Rock Nine. Photographer Will Counts was also there. And so was Hazel Bryan Massery. Counts was able to take a very different photograph this time … one that would be used for a poster titled Reconciliation, now sold at the Visitor’s Center near the school. For the full story – inspiring and disturbing both! – and its aftermath, you’ll have to read the book.

Author Tougas effectively pulls together history, memories, and, of course, many photographs to present a mesmerizing, multi-layered mosaic of our challenging past. The title photo “told the story of segregation in an instant. But it did more than tell the facts – it provoked a reaction.” Change is still in motion … “and the state of America’s inner-city schools can be seen as evidence of racism in disguise.” Little Rock Girl, however, ends with the greatest hope, with a visit to Central High by one of the Little Rock Nine, Melba Pattillo Beals, who remembers being welcomed by a young African American boy: “‘Welcome to Central High School. I’m the president of the student body.'” Beals’ reaction is understandably tearful: “‘… I was expecting something other than this black child. This had been my dream, my vision. This was why I had endured all the pain and physical punishment – so this boy could stand there and say that. It was amazing.”

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011


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