Smiley faces | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Smiley faces

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2007 at 10:09 AM

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They've been quizzed, trotted out, feted and still the Little Rock Nine are going strong, giving Tavis Smiley great interviews this morning at the Clinton Center, where he taped a special edition of his PRI radio show.

Jefferson Thomas, one of the Nine's funniest, again gave an account both entertaining and poignant as he told Smiley why he decided to sign up to go to Central High. He was the youngest of seven children, he said, and he said he always had to "measure up" to them in school. Central wouldn't present that problem he said: The teachers never knew his big brothers and sisters. Too, he said, because he was a good student and that's what the Little Rock School Board was looking for among its candidates to integrate Central, "I thought I was doing the School Board a favor."

Though Thomas expected the students at Central -- some from the neighborhood who he'd played with as children -- to act not like their parents but "intelligent human beings," Thomas found out just how unwelcome he was when a couple of boys jumped him from behind in the gym one day and knocked him unconscious. He considered quitting, he said, but his brother -- who he called "Bubba" -- asked him why quit now, after you've been beat up? If you were going to quit, you should have done it on the second day.

Though Thomas expected the students at Central -- some from the neighborhood who he'd played with as children -- to act not like their parents but "intelligent human beings," Thomas found out just how unwelcome he was when a couple of boys jumped him from behind in the gym one day and knocked him unconscious. He considered quitting, he said, but his brother -- who he called "Bubba" -- asked him why quit now, after you've been beat up? If you were going to quit, you should have done it on the second day.

Smiley asked the four members of the Nine on the first segment of his show to define courage. Elizabeth Eckford said it was knowing that "some things are larger than yourself." Realizing that got her through, one class at a time.

Hezekiah Brown, who was serving in the National Guard in 1957, wasn't allowed to join his fellow guardsmen at the school because he's black. Instead, he and other African American guardsmen stayed at Camp Robinson. He was angry about it at the time, but in retrospect said it was best that the black guardsmen weren't deployed to the campus. "The focus would have shifted from the students to the soldiers."

Smiley welcomed Bill Clinton to the third recording session, in which Clinton gave a brief history lesson in the evolution of the Republican Party from the party of Lincoln to the conservative bastion it is today, which has built its recent successes on the white Southern vote. "The sea change came," Clinton said, "when Reagan declared [for office] in Philadelphia, Miss., talking about states rights." Philadelphia was where three civil rights workers had been murdered. "And the mainstream press thought it was all right."

 

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