Beals Relates Powerful Story of Faith, Forgiveness
Stacy L. Voeller
Minnesota State University
musical performance by the award winning St. Ailbes Childrens Choir
and Dancers, opened the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Charlemae
Rollins Presidents Program July 13. Melba Pattillo Beals has authored best-selling
Warriors Dont Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock Central High School, White is a State of Mind: Freedom is Yours to Choose, and Expose Yourself: Using the Power of Public Relations to Promote Your Business and Yourself.
1957, Beals and eight other black students faced the wrath of segregationists
and the Governor of Arkansas to become the first black students to enter Central
High School. The civil rights battle which erupted rocked this country, put the
world on edge, and set her life forever on a different course. In 1998, for their
courage and self-sacrifice, the Congress of the United States awarded the Little
Rock Nine Americas top civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
Beals own mother was a librarian, so she expressed how especially wonderful it is to be in the presence of librarians and this association. When I lived in Little Rock there was no escape, no path, so I lived in books. Every Septem-ber she set me on the dining room table and she put the books there and I got to crease them. Dont mistreat books, dont ever write in them, treat them with respect she always said. Today, her office is in the back of the library. A visitor recently commented to her that she went from the back of the bus to the back of a library. Beals loves being there because every single day I teach I get to walk through the library and see all the brand new books and I get to crease the books and I get to say put that aside for me.
In recounting her memories of Central High School, Beals said it was kind of a closed cage. It limited what I could do with my life and where I could go. The library was one place I could go. My life has been fraught with challenge, and the challenge has always been met with hope. Your journey with libraries will challenge you but youve got to get there no matter what. Your journey is to tell people how important the library is.
While growing up Beals felt as if the burden of the country was placed upon her shoulders. Central High School was this huge building with a beautiful water fountain in front of it. When the whole issue came up of going to Central High School, they said who lives in the neighborhood and I said I do. When I raised my hand at 13 years of age, they gave us these pieces of paper that your parents were supposed to sign. I signed mine myself and turned it in. While on a trip with her family to Cincinnati, she had her first contact with white friends of their family. Beals wondered what the big deal was because they had the same doilies as her grandmother and served the same food.
She recalled that on the evening news one night, Walter Cronkite announced that there would be 16 students to go to the high school in Little Rock. Her father said to her mother, you know theyre talking about your daughter.
When she arrived at the school on that
very first day, [segregationalists] noticed me and my mother and said we
dont have to go across the street, we got niggers to hang right here.
Beals recited the 23rd Psalm and The Lords Prayer out loud, and miraculously
they escaped the crowd that had gathered outside the school.
day after we arrived at the school, said Beals, they separated us
and all nine of us were in different places. Beals was on the third floor
of the school. The teachers were not prepared, everyone was in jeopardy. One day,
her teacher kept telling her not to go near the window, but she wanted to see
what was happening. There were sawhorses outside to keep the mob back, but after
a while they got through. Pretty soon all of us were called into the principals
office and they were saying that they needed to get us out of the school. One
man said we might have to let them hang one [of us] so we can get the other eight
out. Another man said, Im a father, we cant do that; how would
you choose? Beals later saw that same man and she thanked him for
giving her a ride home from school that day and they hugged each other.
Beals had to leave Little Rock to live with her adopted family after that year because there was a $10,000 bounty placed on her if she were turned over to the Ku Klux Klan alive, $5,000 if she were already dead. But even after everything she went through that year, Beals has no hatred in her soul.If you hate, its like sucking a lemon. You are the one left with the bitterness. Look at the life Ive had. My father would always look at me and say dont ever forget, youre never less than my daughter.
Martin Luther King once said to her, Melba, dont be selfish. Youre not doing this for you, youre doing this for a generation yet unborn. Even with this great responsibility and the challenges she has faced, Beals faith has kept her strong. She ended her speech with the words, Love is the answer. The God in me sees the God in you.
Melba Pattillo Beals keynotes the ALSC Charlemae Rollins Presidents Program.
Mark Your Calendar
2010 Midwinter Meeting
January 1520, 2010
June 2430, 2010
San Diego, CA
January 711, 2011
New Orleans, LA
June 2328, 2011
drawing for a Kindle 2 at booth #4320
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