Brown-Trickey of “Little Rock Nine” speaks on campus

Beth McHenry

This past Tuesday, April 19 Minnijean Brown-Trickey, one of the members of the Little Rock Nine, visited Lawrence. The Little Rock Nine, a group of nine black high schoolers, is famous for being the first group of African-Americans to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Brown-Trickey began her lecture by giving some background on her own upbringing and the surrounding area where she grew up: “I want to tell you where I came from and the mindset of the people at the time.”
Brown-Trickey, who was 16 at the time of the integration, spent much of her lecture reflecting on how difficult it’s been for her to come to terms with what she dealt with during the start of integration. Even as she’s aged well into her sixties, Brown-Trickey feels that, “Inside this middle-aged woman is the heart of a 16-year-old girl who met a mob on her first day of eleventh grade.”
To assist her description of her first day of integrated high school, Brown-Trickey played a video showing the National Guard escorting her and the other members of the Little Rock Nine into the school. The video also depicted several white students voicing their anger over the admission of black students into Central High School.
There were, however, some white students who supported the admission of the Little Rock Nine, though they were in the minority. Those who were in support greeted Brown-Trickey and her classmates at the door of the school. She pointed out that, “1,000 white kids [were] in the high school, 100 were bad, 20 were good, and the rest stood silent.”
Brown-Trickey cited the event as a turning point in American history, a statement that few would dispute. She also referenced a speech by Bill Clinton, in which the former president restated a famous question asking Americans, “Do you want to be in the mob, or do you want to be one of the four kids who greeted [us] at the door?” The integration of Central High School marked a momentous event as the integration of several other previously all-white high schools began the process of integration.
The harassment Brown-Trickey dealt with on her first days of school has stayed with her throughout the rest of her life. Despite her earlier desires to close the Little Rock Nine chapter of her life, Brown-Trickey now says it’s a process she will go through for the rest of her life. Brown-Trickey’s visit was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Multicultural Affairs Committee, the Alyssa Paul Maria Fund, and the Lawrence History Department.