Do you have a dream? Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. He wanted blacks to have the same rights as whites, so he did something about it. He started many peaceful movements, and things in the United States did get better. He wasn’t the only one with that dream though. The Little Rock Nine wanted equal rights as well. They were the first black students to integrate a school that at the time was for white kids only. One of these brave students visited our school only a few weeks ago: Dr. Melba Patillo Beals. Dr. Beals’ perseverance is inspiring. She did not fray when those around her quivered in fear. She did not let her spirit fade despite the chains of discrimination and inequality wrapped tightly around her. Instead she became a fighter for racial equality and fairness. Tiger Times was fortunate enough to interview her after she attended our liturgy on Friday, January 12, 2018, and she gave remarkable answers to our questions.
Dr. Beals was born December 7, 1941 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Before starting at Central High School, she attended Horace Mann, a public school for black students in Little Rock. At the time of the integration with Central High School, she lived with her mother, a graduate of the University of Arkansas and a high school English teacher, her father, who worked on the railroad, her brother, and her grandmother. She explained to us the reasons she decided to attend Central High School, even when so many people were against it. She said “I wanted a better me,” continuing, “I wanted freedom more than anything else – that’s why I went to Central High School.” She wanted the freedom to choose and grow. In addition, she wanted to explore her curiosity. She shared that she’s still “very curious, even as a seventy-six year old woman.”
The process of selecting students to integrate Central High was intensive. First, Dr. Beals said, they needed kids who wouldn’t talk back to the teachers, and who wouldn’t be violent. They needed students who would blend in, kids who got good grades. She also said that they filtered through their family history, and that it was a very close examination. There was lots of questioning and preparation. In regards to her relationship to the other members of the Little Rock Nine, she told us she knew them all. In fact, she went to church with five of them, who were also school classmates and friends. The eight remaining members of the Little Rock Nine had a reunion in September, gathering in Arkansas for the 60th anniversary of their groundbreaking first day at Central High School. Dr. Beals said that it was very nice.
Following her time at Central High, Dr. Beals went to the San Francisco State University to study journalism and earned a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University. She has been a reporter, communications consultant, and motivational speaker. Her two books, Warriors Don’t Cry and White is a State of Mind, received the American Library Association Notable Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1995. For her work as an activist, Dr.Beals received the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1958 and the Congressional Gold Medal presented by Bill Clinton in 1999.
We wanted to take some time to ask someone with so many unique experiences and accomplishments for advice. Dr. Beals shared with us that every year, on her birthday, she makes a plaque and writes down everything she wants to accomplish in the coming year. A year later, she looks back to see how much she succeeded. When we asked her what gave her strength to continue through the hard times, she informed us that whenever people ask her that question her answer is always the same: “God…There is nothing else [that] you can count on like God.” She says on the hard days when you can’t find your keys, or your books, or notes, and everything seems to be going wrong, she just thinks to herself, “God loves me. God loves me. I know He loves me, I know I am loved by the Lord Jesus…Even though what I see in front of me is unsettling, I am loved. I know that.”
Finally, we asked Dr. Beals for the most important piece of advice she could give to our generation. She thought for a moment, and then said simply: “Have faith in yourself…Know specifically, that you are precious as an individual.” While it’s good to have role models – leaders, stars, heros, you have to understand that you are just as unique. She said, “You have to make up your mind, where you want to go, if you’re going to get there…He who has not a plan, plans to fail.” She advised us to really think about that idea.
So, as you can see, Melba Patillo Beals is a spiritual lady who is so wise and strong. Doesn’t she inspire you? She has got a lot of determination and a positive mind. Dr. Beals continues to contribute to the Civil Rights Movement and is a leader for young generations. Go out and accomplish something, big or small; every step is a step closer to your dream for the world!