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

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • 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
  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016

Most Shared

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Executionpalooza

    Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • The end of democracy in LR

    The state Board of Education was scheduled to talk this week about the Little Rock School District, under state control for two years because six of its 48 schools failed to meet an arbitrary pass rate on a standardized test.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • Internet looting continues

    The 2017 legislative session concluded without passage of a bill to encourage internet merchants to collect and remit taxes on sales in Arkansas, though internet giant Amazon has begun doing so voluntarily.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Arkansas angler and fishing expert Billy Murray shares his extensive knowledge of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Event Calendar

« »

April

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  

Most Viewed

  • Intracity tourism

    The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • O'Reilly should run for president. He's already cleared one major hurdle by proving he's a…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Intracity tourism

    • I love being a tourist in my own backyard. One of the advantages of being…

    • on April 27, 2017
 

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