LITTLE ROCK -- Fifty years after nine Black teenagers advanced the civil rights movement with the integration of Little Rock Central High School, the same principles apply in efforts to attain social justice, members of the Little Rock Nine said Saturday.
A good education, family support, love, determination, and a belief in oneself are the essentials that got them through those years of threats, jeers, and physical harassment from white segregationists, Little Rock Nine members attending an NAACP education summit told an audience at the school.
Elizabeth Eckford, who alone braved a jeering crowd on her first attempt to enter the school, urged young people to stand up to others who make cruel and ignorant remarks. And she reminded her mostly black audience members to treat themselves with respect.
"Whether you spell it g-g-a-h or g-g-e-r, when you use that word, you give other people permission to use it. Please do not hate yourself," Eckford said.
Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, and Ernest Green attended the NAACP's Daisy Bates Education Summit, honoring the Arkansas NAACP leader who counseled them through those crisis years. Now, they are being honored on a commemorative silver coin.
The U.S. Mint introduced the coin on Saturday. One side of the $1 coin depicts a group of students being escorted by a soldier. It features the phrase "Desegregation in Education" and contains nine stars. The other side depicts Central High as it looked in 1957.
Integration at Central High in 1957 was the first major test of the Supreme Court's ruling, three years earlier, against racial discrimination in public schools.
President Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airborne to enforce a court order after Gov. Orval Faubus tried to prevent the nine Black students from enrolling at the school.
Saturday, they described incidents of pushing, tripping, racial slurs and school work stolen, as well as a White Citizens Council rally outside pushing for their ouster from the school.
LaNier said she had no training in the nonviolent methods that Martin Luther King Jr. and other Black leaders of the day were urging, but her family's belief in her helped her rise above the animosity.
"We had on-the-job training," LaNier said.
For Green, the hostility only made him more determined.
"If we focused on the fear of what the possibilities were, we would have been frozen," said Green, who now works for Lehman Brothers in Washington. "We wouldn't have gotten out of our seats."
The discussion included brief comments from current students of the school who described persistent instances of "subtle racism" but expressed their belief in the human capacity to change.
Afterward, the Little Rock Nine were honored with the unveiling of the U.S. commemorative coin. Proceeds from the sale of the coin go to benefit the Little Rock Central High Historic Center, the only National Park Service site that includes a fully functioning high school.
Minnijean Brown Trickey, Melba Patillo Beals, and Terrence Roberts plan to join their six comrades in September when anniversary events surrounding their first full day at the school, Sept. 25, 1957, include the dedication of a new visitor center.