Favorite

Then there were 8 

Minnijean Brown Trickey wondered briefly Monday how to refer now to that band of brothers and sisters who endured taunts, violence, discrimination and the insidious punishment of shunning to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

She had confirmed to me news that Jefferson Thomas had died Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, shortly before his 68th birthday. Later, she mused, would the Little Rock Nine now be the Eight?

They will forever, of course, be the Little Rock Nine — memorialized in book, song, school lessons, a Congressional medal and even statuary on the state Capitol lawn. Small irony: The statues are but a few steps from a Capitol cafeteria once converted to a whites-only private club by a henchman of Gov. Orval Faubus, who had earlier sparked a constitutional crisis by barring the Nine's entry to the previously all-white Central High School. A Republican president, federal troops and the U.S. Supreme Court proved mightier than Dixie's dream of "interposition."

Thomas, younger and smaller than most of the Nine, endured more abuse, his friends remember. It didn't make him a bitter man. Testaments to his good humor abound. But UALR historian Johanna Miller Lewis, who interviewed Thomas in recent years for the oral history project at the Central High School National Historic Site, said he could invoke a dark emotion in recounting the anger and frustration he felt in the bad old days. No wonder. The Nine's challenge did not end with federal troop protection. The school hallways were dangerous places and retribution occurred elsewhere, too, such as the firing of Thomas' father from a good sales job because of his son's historic role. The torment continued as Thomas proceeded to graduation from Central in 1960. Less than six years later he joined the Army, where he saw combat as a squad leader in Vietnam. The federal government that stood by the Nine in 1957 would become his employer. He retired after 27 years as a Defense Department accountant. He was active in his church and child mentoring programs. He was, by all accounts, the kind of man we hope our children will grow up to be.

Fifty-three years is not so long ago. It is almost unbelievable today that a person like Jefferson Thomas — and all the other hand-picked members of the Nine — could be denied admission to a public school. That it would seem unbelievable is, I guess, a sign of progress.

A resegregating Little Rock School District, however, is not progress. The failure of Little Rock and the rest of the country to produce equal academic achievement among blacks and whites is not progress. The subliminal messages that too many receive from a majority black school enrollment — poverty, crime — are not progress. The rejection of affirmative action, a Supreme Court majority turning an indifferent eye to racial injustice, a growing sense of white victimization on the political right — all these, too, are descendants of the great struggle for civil rights and the sacrifices borne by Jefferson Thomas and his brothers and sisters.

They will always be the Nine, even when time has carried them all away. But Thomas' death is a good time for reflection. The angry Tea Party protestors of recent days would do well to give some thought to real sacrifice and real government oppression. Jefferson Thomas could teach them a thing or two.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Supremely discredited

    Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and her allies continue to discredit the state's highest court.
    • Jul 30, 2015
  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015

Most Shared

  • Labor department director inappropriately expensed out-of-state trips, audit finds

    Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Little Rock will next week host a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems led by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Kids count, not confidentiality

    The trial for the murder of Isaiah Torres, 6, was a reminder again of a gaping hole in the law pertaining to child protective services.
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • Fixing blame: President Trump

    Did the press fail? Were liberal-leaning journalists on the coasts responsible for missing the Trump wave among middle-to-lower income white voters with lower educational attainment?
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Can we get along?

    he Times production deadline fell before polls closed this week, so I'll look to the past and future.
    • Nov 10, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Viewed

  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.
  • Stay the course

    I am frustrated and angry with those who claim the only chance of future success is for the Democratic Party, especially in the South and Midwest, to abandon speaking directly to women and people of color and the LGBT community and instead focus on the economy and other "more comfortable" topics in order to win back some of the center.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Worth it

    • And loyal, to a fault.

    • on December 6, 2016
  • Re: Worth it

    • Alas, Gene's memory ain't what it used to be. He wrote a column some time…

    • on December 5, 2016
  • Re: Forget identity politics

    • Hillarys 'Stronger Together' nonsense failed because she failed to make it a reality. As Gene…

    • on December 5, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation