Favorite

Living history 

A friend of The Observer who works at the Arkansas Studies Institute just down the street from the Fortress of Employment sent us a link the other day to what we believe to be some of the most moving home video footage ever shot in the state: a soundless, 2-minute, 42-second clip that has been buried in its archives for a while now.

It's unknown who shot it, when or why. All that's known is that it came in as part of an anonymous donation of 8-millimeter home movies during a drive to collect such things a few years back. They do that at the ASI: collect stuff from attics and closets and flaking trunks, stuff that seems like junk, but which actually paints a picture of what it was like to live in Arkansas back in The Good Ol' Days (or The Bad Ol' Days, as the case may be).

This video — flickering, silent, flyspecked, black-and-white gone yellow with age — starts with a second of what seems to be a parade: men in the street, holding flags. Then there's a cut, and you see the grand facade of Central High School, students leaving at the end of a bright day, the boys in buzzcuts and crisp white shirts, the girls in cat eye glasses and full skirts — the late '50s, then — all of them walking in cliques and clumps and groups, as kids will. Then a group of girls splits, half left and half right, like the parting curtains of a stage. And there, walking in a sort of bubble, a kind of isolating force field into which no other boy or girl passes, are Elizabeth Eckford and Jefferson Thomas, two of Nine.

She is wearing a black skirt and white shirt. He is holding a book in his left hand. They walk side by side, both so young but different from the rest, upright, made of iron. The camera stalks them as they turn and head down the street. Kids chatting in huddles about the school day look up and track them with their eyes like dangerous things, like animals set loose from the zoo. One boy snaps his arms across his chest as they pass, as if he is shielding his heart at the sight of them. His companion bodily turns to stare. Everyone keeps their distance. The two of them are alone in the crowd.

A cut, and then they are walking in the street, a throng of people on the sidewalk pacing them, staring, the film silent, thank God, because you realize you don't really want to hear what was said on that day, by these children, to this boy and this girl. They walk past a finned Ford with a dent in the door.

A cut, and they're standing on the corner, the hungry camera circling them.

A cut, and a motorcycle policeman sits before them, astride his Harley.

A cut, and the camera lens peers between them, their heads close together, shrouded in gloom, looking across an intersection to where a crowd of white faces has gathered in the sun on the opposite corner, next to a police car, staring, staring, staring, staring.

A cut, and a yellow Plymouth taxicab approaches. The two of them climb inside. The car turns. The car motors away into the blessed future. Then fade to black.

And that is it, the whole video. The Observer can't seem to stop watching it, so profound in its simplicity: A boy and girl emerge from an American high school, walk to the corner, and wait on a taxi. So brief and moving, a snapshot from a world much like ours but better left in the past.

Watching it, we can't help but think about all those people: where they are and what they think of that moment, if they remember it at all. As one of The Observer's friends said when we posted the video to our page on Facebook: How many of those kids lied when their grandchildren came to them and asked whether they reached out in support and kindness? How many of them tried, retroactively, to leap across the gulf of their old shame to the right side of history?

The Observer, however, can't linger much on that in the face of such bravery. Instead, watching, we think: This is what courage looks like. This is what it looks like to do what's right when almost everybody else around you is wrong.

You can download the video from the ASI archives at http://tinyurl.com/k8jqqqv.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016
  • Yawp

    The Observer has been in a funk lately for a number of reasons: revulsions and slights, both foreign and domestic. We get that way most years as the winter drags on, once the tinsel and colored lights of Christmas drop into the rearview, soon after we come off the New Year's Day hangover.
    • Mar 24, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated itsĀ 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in The Observer

  • Dumb and smart, at the same time

    The Observer spent the week at a bar and thought a lot about a joke and its writer.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • -30-

    A newspaper died up in Atkins a few weeks back, not with a bang or a whimper, but with the sound of change jingling in a pocket, just too little of it to keep the printing presses rolling.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Does she know?

    Did Kim Walker-Smith, when recording "Throne Room" for her new record "On My Side," truly understand the power of her music? Does she now know that her song was the one that played on the radio as Michael Reed thumped into the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds and brought it on down?
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

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

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation