Civil Rights Milestone Observed

50 years after desegregation, documentary questions progress

Fifty years after becoming one of the first black students to attend Little Rock Central High—opening the door for the integration of Southern schools—one civil rights pioneer said she now feels “shame and horror” at the state of today’s public education.

“There shouldn’t be such a thing as higher and lower education,” said Minnijean Brown-Trickey, 65, one of the “Little Rock Nine” widely covered in the media in 1957, speaking at the Institute of Politics last night during a ceremony to honor her work in the past half century.

W.E.B DuBois professor of the Humanities Henry Louis “Skip” Gates presented Brown-Trickey with the W.E.B. Dubois Medal for continuing to advocate for minority groups after being expelled from Little Rock Central.

During the event, HBO screened a documentary examining the lives of today’s Little Rock Central students, asking the question how far the nation has progressed since the 1957.

Brown-Trickey said little progress at the school had been made, even though the Advanced Placement program (AP) now ranks the school among the top in the country, according to the film.

Brown-Trickey smiled last night, but her expression in the film betrayed sadness and disbelief at social self-segregation among students.

The film also shows a disparity between the number of white and black students who take AP courses.

While white students overwhelmingly dominate advanced courses, black students comprise the majority of regular classes.

Brown-Trickey argued those students have forgotten the struggle that gave them the opportunity to attend better schools.

“That’s crap,” Brown-Trickey said after the film. “They simply believe in their intellectual inferiority at Central.”

Co-director and co-producer of the film, Craig Renaud, an alumnus of Little Rock Central, said before the screening that the film reflects national themes.

“Many people were saying that they experience the same thing as in Little Rock,” Renaud said. “Opinions on the topic of race and segregation will vary depending on who you talk to. We talked to multitudes of people.”

Senior Admissions Officer David L. Evans advocated increasing the outflow of historical information to younger generations of African American students.

“Even a majority of the most advanced history courses in high school leave off at World War II,” Evans said. “We simply must bring them the stories they never get nowadays.”

—Staff writer Michael A. Peters can be reached mapeters@fas.harvard.edu.