‘Shy but made of steel’: Eckford breaks barriers


Elizabeth Eckford spoke at Sequoia High School on March 31 about her experiences with the Little Rock Nine.

Civil Rights leader Elizabeth Eckford spoke of her experiences in the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to integrate an all-white high school, during third period March 31 in Carrington Hall. About 800 students heard Eckford talk in her only California speaking appearance. She condemned bullying and encouraged students to be allies.
“When you support someone who is being harassed you could actually help someone live another day. You could be the person who says, ‘I don’t hate you because you’re different.’ Anybody can support someone who is being hurt,” Eckford said.
On the first day at her school Eckford was separated from the others in the Little Rock Nine, causing her to suffer more harassment and mobbing on her way to school. Despite the extreme opposition, Eckford and her counterparts attended the school for the entire year. Almost sixty years later, Eckford still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so students were taught how to applaud in American Sign Language.

Eckford also explained her opinion on the n-word.

“When an African-American uses that language, even if you are joshing with your friend, you’re telling other people something you don’t realize; you’re telling other people you have racial self-hatred. Understand that,” Eckford said.

Eckford concluded her question-and-answer session with a message about the future of a more diverse social climate in the U.S.

“There’s a lot of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic feelings, but whatever differences they have from you, understand that your predecessors had to overcome difficulties too, and America is always in the process of becoming its ideals,” Eckford said. “If you are open to new people, new experiences—open to different people—we can become a stronger country.”
Students were prompted by history teacher William Gray, who led the assembly, to try to apply Eckford’s lessons to their everyday lives.

“I thought it was really interesting—her points about the kind of language you use and just acknowledging that someone is a human could help them get through another day. I’ll try to just be more aware of my surroundings and check in with people around me and seeing if they are okay,” senior Danielle Croft said.

At 74 years old, Eckford hinted this may be one of her last public speaking events given to students.

She left students with much to ponder.

“If you have not been good to yourself, it’s not too late,” Eckford said. “Know that you can learn and if you have difficulties, have the courage to ask for help because this is you preparing for tomorrow’s opportunities. Don’t you think you’re worth having a future?”