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The Little Rock Nine: The Connection Between Resilience and Success

A black student raises his hand in a fully integrated classroom. This image is possible because of people like the Little Rock Nine.

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month, a month to recognize the history and contributions of African Americans throughout U.S. history.  One group of Black Americans who made a lasting impact on our country were the students and families of the Little Rock Nine.  They are famous for their involvement in a historical struggle in the 1950s south, however, they continued to impact our country throughout the rest of their lives and contributed to the welfare and journeys of others. They are models of resilience and lives well lived.

Resilient Lives and Lessons on Success

What is the definition of the word “Resilience”?

One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of resilience is, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” The Little Rock Nine were placed in history during a time of change, and certainly displayed character and resilience.

Who Were The Little Rock Nine?

The Little Rock Nine were a group of nine African American students who enrolled at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Their names are:

Melba Pattillo Beals,

Carlotta Walls Lanier,

Elizabeth Eckford

Ernest Green

Gloria Ray Karlmark

Jefferson Thomas

Minnijean Brown Trickey

Terrence J. Roberts

Thelma Mothershed-Wair

Their enrollment was met with fierce resistance and violent protests from those who opposed the desegregation of the school.

The Little Rock Nine had been chosen to attend the school as part of the desegregation efforts following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. However, the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, refused to allow the students to attend the school and called in the National Guard to block their entry.

Despite the governor’s actions, the Little Rock Nine were determined to attend the school and with the help of the NAACP, they were able to enroll. However, their first day at the school was met with violent protests and they were forced to leave for their own safety.

The Little Rock Nine’s struggle to attend the school received national attention and President Dwight D. Eisenhower eventually sent federal troops to escort the students into the school. The Little Rock Nine faced continued harassment and abuse while they attended the school, but they persevered and graduated the following year.

Their Legacy

The Little Rock Nine’s bravery and determination helped to pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement and their story continues to be an important reminder of the struggle for desegregation and equal rights in the United States. Their accomplishments and contributions are many.

Their Paths and Contributions since the 1950s

One was one of the first Black graduates from the University of Arkansas.

One graduated from San Francisco State University with a doctorate in Journalism and went on to work at an NBC affiliate.

One went on to receive a humanitarian award with someone who was protesting integration on that day in 1957 after they were reconciled more than 30 years later.

One of the Nine serviced in the U.S. Army.

One earned a degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology and worked as a mathematician for IBM.

One is in the Colorado and National Women’s Hall of Fame

One was the assistant Dean at the UCLA School of Social Welfare in the 1980s and 90s authored two books on the topic.

One earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and worked for Mobil Oil and the Department of Defense.

One served in President Bill Clinton’s administration as deputy assistant secretary for workforce diversity at the Department of the Interior.

All nine earned their places in history, not just in 1957, but throughout their lives.

What Can The Little Rock Nine’s Stories Teach Us About Resilience and Success

One consistent theme for all of these individuals was their determination to achieve in their studies.  Looking at their lives and career paths, their involvement in the integration of schools in the 1950s was only the beginning of their journeys to success and achievement. While the integration of schools and the part they played in it may seem like the defining moment in their lives from our perspectives some 70 years later, their journeys were laid out in steps.  One takeaway from these historical figures is the connection between resilience and success. Is it a perfect journey? No. Did their experience facing angry mobs impact them?  Of course.  Just as Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Panther’s Story

At The Panther Group, we continue to honor our very own Black History Leader, our founder, and the late Kelvin Bernard.  His story is one of creativity, excellence, and resilience.  You can read more about him here. 

Kelvin’s legacy continues to drive how we do business. We believe that Panther’s longevity and success are directly tied to continued alignment with our core values. You can explore them, in detail, here.

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