Woman who was part of Little Rock Nine discusses enduring racism as teenage student

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Elizabeth Eckford is a woman who once played a pivotal role in Black history.

She was part of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who were stopped from walking into a desegregated high school nearly 70 years ago.

Long before Eckford was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by former President Bill Clinton, she was just a teen trying to get to class following a controversial landmark federal court order.

“What we experienced was desegregation,” Eckford said. “We were never considered or treated like equals.”

Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas was an all-white school until Sept. 4, 1957.

“They were taunting me, shouting racial slurs,” Eckford recalled.

Eckford and eight other Black students were turned away by the very National Guard brought in to keep the peace under racial tensions.

“I’d seen them break ranks to admit white students, when I approached them, they closed ranks to bar me,” she said.

The protestors were worse, as outside the school it was a mob scene.

“I looked to adults for help, even in that group, I saw a woman who appeared to have a kind face who I turned toward her and she spat on me,” Eckford said.

Unfortunately, it was nothing like the trauma she would endure inside of the school.

“We were body-slammed into the lockers every day, you just didn’t know where,” she said.

Now 81-years old, Eckford has learned how to balance the trauma that still haunts her 65 years later.

“It’s been a difficult journey for me, but worthwhile because it is a chance to teach,” she said.

Her stop in Coral Springs is the last public appearance for the civil rights pioneer, doctor and military veteran.

She’s retiring from the road and allowing her book to tell the experiences she can no longer share.

About the Author:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.