Elizabeth and Hazel

Elizabeth and Hazel

David Margolick
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Elizabeth and Hazel
    Book Description:

    The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation-in Little Rock and throughout the South-and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.

    In this gripping book, David Margolick tells the remarkable story of two separate lives unexpectedly braided together. He explores how the haunting picture of Elizabeth and Hazel came to be taken, its significance in the wider world, and why, for the next half-century, neither woman has ever escaped from its long shadow. He recounts Elizabeth's struggle to overcome the trauma of her hate-filled school experience, and Hazel's long efforts to atone for a fateful, horrible mistake. The book follows the painful journey of the two as they progress from apology to forgiveness to reconciliation and, amazingly, to friendship. This friendship foundered, then collapsed-perhaps inevitably-over the same fissures and misunderstandings that continue to permeate American race relations more than half a century after the unforgettable photograph at Little Rock. And yet, as Margolick explains, a bond between Elizabeth and Hazel, silent but complex, endures.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17835-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Prologue: Two Dresses
    (pp. 1-4)

    Early in the morning of September 4, 1957, two girls in Little Rock, Arkansas, each fifteen years old, dressed for school.

    On a block of black families nestled in the west side of town, in the small brick house she shared with her parents and five brothers and sisters, Elizabeth Eckford put on a skirt that her older sister, Anna, and she had made just for this day. The immaculate white cotton piqué felt cool and soft to the touch; when Elizabeth and Anna, who had labored over it for several weeks, had run out of fabric, they’d trimmed the...

  4. ONE
    (pp. 5-10)

    Elizabeth Eckford’s house sat on a short stretch of West 18th Street, just off Peyton. Everything about the building and the land it rested on was compact, as if someone had sat down and figured out the smallest and most inexpensive way to fulfill a dream—a place of one’s own. The home was squat and square, with two bedrooms on a single floor, along with a crawl space below and a small attic, accessible only via a ladder. The place was rudimentary, unfinished: the pine floors, for instance, had never been varnished. The front yard was tidy, and tiny....

  5. TWO
    (pp. 11-16)

    There was one other thing everyone noticed about Elizabeth, or at least she thought they did: her smile was crooked. The Crumpton twins had welcomed her into her new neighborhood by throwing rocks at her and calling her “Buck Teeth.” White children, she knew from the sitcoms on television, could fix their teeth with braces, but that wasn’t an option for her. She didn’t like looking at herself in the mirror and sometimes covered her mouth when she spoke. It made her even shyer than she naturally was.

    Though her mother let her join the pep team in ninth grade,...

  6. THREE
    (pp. 17-25)

    In 1927 Little Rock witnessed two seemingly contradictory events, occurring only a few miles apart. Together, they help illustrate how, even thirty years later, the city could be a place of both lofty aspirations and deep-seated intolerance. The paradox was, in fact, nothing new: Little Rock was also where, in 1889, Frederick Douglass was welcomed by the state legislature, but turned away by a local restaurant.

    In May 1927 a thirty-five-year-old black man named John Carter, the married father of five, fled into the woods after supposedly assaulting a white woman and her daughter on the road to Hot Springs....

  7. FOUR
    (pp. 26-32)

    Five days after theBrowndecision, and more than a year before the High Court offered its ambiguous order for southern schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” the Little Rock School Board pledged to comply with the decision. It was in some ways a forward-looking commitment, befitting what the local superintendent of schools, Virgil Blossom, called “a friendly, open-handed town where the easy comradeship of the West and the hustling spirit of the Middle West blended with the traditions of the Old South,” one garnering considerable attention, and applause: “a likely model for other cities,”U.S. News and World...

  8. FIVE
    (pp. 33-37)

    Will Counts was the son of a sharecropper. He’d grown up in Plum Bayou, a community south of Little Rock built by the Farm Security Administration. After World War II his family moved to Little Rock, and he’d graduated from Central in 1949. While there he’d gotten his first camera: a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. Now twenty-six years old, he was back at the school—or at least outside it—documenting everything for theArkansas Democrat. It was his first big story for the afternoon paper, which he’d joined only a few months earlier. Sensing that there’d be trouble, wanting to...

  9. SIX
    (pp. 38-46)

    Unlike many of the rabble-rousers that morning, who had come in from the sticks, Hazel Bryan, age fifteen and a half, actually lived in Little Rock. But her roots, too, were rural. She had been born—on January 31, 1942—and raised in the hamlet of Redfield, population a hundred or so, roughly thirty miles to the south. Her parents had married in 1940; her father, Sanford, had been thirty years old, her mother, Pauline, only fourteen. The town’s economy revolved around a sawmill; people on both sides of her family worked there. Hazel grew up in a small house,...

  10. SEVEN
    (pp. 47-51)

    The men of the Arkansas National Guard continued to ring the school, watching idly as Elizabeth walked by. Since she was no longer physically trying to enter Central, she was of little consequence to them. But others continued to watch her. “Here she is this little girl, this tender little thing, walking with this whole mob baying at her like a pack of wolves seeking to destroy a little lamb,” Benjamin Fine of theNew York Timeslater recalled. Buddy Lonesome of theSt. Louis Argus,a black weekly, was also looking on. “The mob of twisted whites, galvanized into...

  11. EIGHT
    (pp. 52-57)

    For Grace Lonergan Lorch and her husband, Lee, civic engagement had long been second nature. Grace had been first to the barricades, fighting for herself and other women teaching in the Boston public schools during and after World War II for the right to keep their jobs after marriage. (A plaque honoring her still hangs outside a school there.) In 1949 Lee, a mathematician, lost his position at City College in New York for leading the fight to integrate Stuyvesant Town, the massive housing complex on Manhattan’s East Side then owned by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Lee Lorch was...

  12. NINE
    (pp. 58-68)

    There are times,” Elizabeth later observed, “when you justknowyou need your Mama.” When she had boarded the bus with Grace Lorch, Elizabeth knew where she had to go: to the School for the Blind and Deaf Negro. When she got there, walking along the unpaved street from the bus stop to the main entrance, she headed straight down the stairs to the laundry room. Reports from Central, some highly inaccurate, had gone out over the radio, though Birdie Eckford hadn’t needed them; she already knew something terrible had happened. When Elizabeth entered the room, she found her mother...

  13. TEN
    (pp. 69-72)

    Reporters badgered Daisy Bates, either to let them interview Elizabeth or to chastise her for sending someone so fragile into the line of fire. It was just what the segregationists were saying: Elizabeth had been ill-used to induce sympathy. The syndicated columnist Bob Considine claimed that Bates had prepared Elizabeth as meticulously as the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, had coached Jackie Robinson. “The Eckford girl underwent careful schooling and priming,” he wrote. “By the time Mrs. Bates finished briefing her, the child would have walked across a mined field—which is just about what she had...

  14. ELEVEN
    (pp. 73-82)

    Two days after Johnny Jenkins’s picture of Elizabeth and Hazel ran in theGazette,it appeared again, though in a very different guise. This time, it wasn’t featured on the front page but on the lower right-hand corner of page 4A. It was set off from the news columns by a couple of thin lines, and labeled advertisement. “If you live in Arkansas—” it read above the photograph. Only after the eyes had taken in the two schoolgirls came the rest of the sentence, delivered in bigger, bolder type: “Study This Picture and Know Shame.” “When hate is unleashed...

  15. TWELVE
    (pp. 83-90)

    Officially, the NAACP discouraged what its executive secretary, Roy Wilkins, called “sideshows and exhibitions” involving Elizabeth or the other black students. Their education—that is, once it resumed—was to come first. But Elizabeth was produced to selected reporters, who made their way to the Eckford home, which they tended to describe as some variant of“_____but_____.” (Ted Poston’s “spic-and-span but much used” was typical.) She knew that going to Central wouldn’t be easy, Elizabeth told Walter Lister of theNew York Herald Tribune,but her pastor had urged her once to take advantage of every opportunity. “I believe in being...

    (pp. 91-94)

    The 1957 college football season was about to begin for Sidney Williams. Williams, who’d grown up five blocks from the Eckfords, was a junior at the University of Wisconsin and was about to become the first black in the history of the Big Ten to begin a season as starting quarterback. He expected trouble, but Elizabeth’s example helped embolden him whatever came his way.

    John Lewis was a seventeen-year-old theology student in Nashville when he saw the picture. He couldn’t discuss it with his parents back in Troy, Alabama, who had spent their lives keeping their heads down. But he,...

    (pp. 95-100)

    When I see on television and read about a crowd in Arkansas spitting on a little colored girl, I think I have a right to get sore.”

    The speaker was Louis Armstrong, who on the night of September 17, 1957, was preparing to play with his All Stars in Grand Forks, North Dakota. There was a Grand Forks Nine, too: the nine blacks living in a town (as of 1950) of 26,836. Grand Forks did not figure to be a key front in the civil rights struggle. But this was not all Armstrong had to say that night to a...

    (pp. 101-107)

    American diplomacy faced greater problems than the cancellation of Armstrong’s tour. The U.S. Information Agency, then showing Edward Steichen’s famous photographic exhibit “The Family of Man” around the world, now had to juxtapose its inspirational images of brotherhood against the pictures coming out of Arkansas. One USIA report complained that photographs from Little Rock “were particularly damaging to U.S. prestige”; the agency scoured its archives for pictures of blacks and whites in harmony to offset them.¹ The State Department created “Talking Points to Overcome Adverse Reaction to Little Rock Incident” for all field missions in sub-Saharan Africa but conceded that...

    (pp. 108-112)

    The initial reports from inside were encouraging. “They [the white students] were so wonderful,” Melba Patillo told one reporter. “They treated us so good. Nothing I can say describes just how happy I am.”¹ A picture taken during the morning of the first day of classes—in the midst of a “fire drill” that was actually a bomb scare—showed Elizabeth chatting, apparently casually and comfortably, with two white girls from her history class. (In fact, anticipating problems when the soldiers were not around, Elizabeth was asking one of them, Priscilla Thompson, to describe the layout of the lunch room...

    (pp. 113-116)

    Elizabeth’s homeroom teacher, Miss Poindexter, was a disciplinarian who kept things largely under control, making some boys take off their Confederate caps and stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Nothing bad happened to Elizabeth there. At least at first, some white classmates befriended her and the other black students. But in the offcial vacuum the segregationists quickly came to set the tone, intimidating all the others—in the South, few labels were more toxic than “nigger lover”—into silence. Elizabeth was surprised by how quickly the tolerant kids gave up; within a few weeks, most of the goodwill had evaporated....

    (pp. 117-120)

    When Jackie Robinson broke into major league baseball, a decade before blacks entered Central High School, he was spiked on the base paths, shunned by some of his own teammates, taunted mercilessly from the opposing dugout. Yet he had managed to maintain his composure so admirably that when the black students were told how to carry themselves inside Central, his example was invariably cited. But when the recently retired Robinson spoke to seven of the Nine by phone on October 18, he insisted thathewas in awe ofthem. He had had the backing of the general manager of...

    (pp. 121-125)

    One Sunday morning in November, Harold Isaacs of MIT was picked up at his hotel in Little Rock by a World War II buddy of his named Frank Newell. Isaacs, who had chronicled the fighting in China, India, and Southeast Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, was now covering another battle, one which to him represented the front line in the Cold War. Imagine, marveled Newell, who now sold insurance: a foreign correspondent in Little Rock! How, Isaacs asked him, did all the attention make him feel? “Embarrassed,” Newell said. “Embarrassed and ashamed.” “Newell used most of the key words:...

  23. TWENTY
    (pp. 126-128)

    Shortly before Christmas, the Nine would have an even more distinguished visitor. He was Dr. Kenneth Clark, the psychologist whose findings on the harmfulness of segregated education had buttressed the NAACP’s case inBrown. As Clark explained to Daisy Bates, he and his family would be spending the holidays in Hot Springs, only a couple of hours away. “Needless to say, I could not be so close to Little Rock without coming by to talk with you and the nine youngsters who have so bravely fought our battles,” he told her. In fact, the Southern Regional Council had commissioned him...

    (pp. 129-139)

    The new year brought only more abuse, particularly as the troublemakers realized they risked little more than a slap on the wrist or a brief (and, often, welcome) suspension for any misbehavior. That, in turn, led the few school officials, teachers, soldiers, and students otherwise inclined to push back essentially to stop trying. School officials had some sense of which parents were behind the harassment—Mrs. Huckaby later claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency installed an agent in Little Rock that year, even finding his wife a job in a local beauty parlor to pick up gossip—but they were...

    (pp. 140-150)

    That summer, the Little Rock Nine, who had already proven to be potent fund-raisers for the NAACP, went on the road. Apart from a childhood trip to St. Louis that she couldn’t remember, it was Elizabeth’s first time away from home, and her first time in a plane. But that didn’t matter: she was just excited to be out of Little Rock and the South. That June the group was feted for three days in New York, in a program organized by the local branch of the Hotel and Club Employees Union. After a tearful reunion with Minnijean at the...

    (pp. 151-157)

    Fuller High School was only seven or eight miles from Central, but they were about as different as two schools could be. It was utterly unknown, of no particular distinction, and very small—only about thirty students per class. All of them, of course, were white, and desegregation was far from their minds. For a time Hazel stayed in touch with Sammie Dean, who kept her apprised of events at Central. But those calls gradually became less frequent. Hazel came not to care; her life revolved around her new boyfriend, Antoine (pronounced ANtone) Massery. He hadn’t a clue who Hazel...

    (pp. 158-167)

    Despite the occasional interview, Elizabeth usually lay low. But in August 1963, at twenty-one, she had joined several others on a bus from Little Rock to the March on Washington. It was a long trip through the South, and, two years after the violence visited on the Freedom Riders, fear stirred in her at every stop. When she reached the capital, she was just another face in the throng. She was awestruck and heartened by the numbers and variety of the people, as well as by their temperament: so many friendly white people, and black folks who, unlike those back...

    (pp. 168-172)

    How, nearly twenty-five years after Central was desegregated, do you place a help-wanted advertisement in the Little Rock newspaper declaring that “no blacks need apply”? Or parade around what had by now become a largely black neighborhood with signs shouting “Niggers Go Home!”? Small wonder that the casting director forCrisis at Central High Schoolhad his work cut out for him. In fact, he very nearly had a nervous breakdown.

    Hollywood had finally discovered Little Rock. In 1981 Mrs. Huckaby’s recently published memoirs became a made-for-television movie, with Joanne Woodward in the starring role. School officials were portrayed much...

    (pp. 173-181)

    Hazel’s family kept her very busy. As she liked to say, there was always someone being hatched, matched, or dispatched. Her children grew, married young (though not quite as young as she), and in some instances, remarried young, too; by procreation and acquisition, she amassed a slew of grandchildren.

    Her family filled the void left by the church from which she had strayed, gradually at first and then decisively. Though she still read the Bible (and could rattle off its books in order), she came to wonder whether it was all made up. When prayers began with “Our Father,” she...

    (pp. 182-191)

    For the final four years of her life, Birdie Eckford lived with Elizabeth. During this time Elizabeth came to realize that what people had always regarded in her mother as eccentricity was really mental illness. She heard voices and continued to follow her strange remedies, like rubbing antifreeze on her face or writing things down on brown paper, then urinating in a jar. In January 1992, Birdie passed away. Though she was seventy-two, in one sense she had died too soon: Elizabeth had never thanked her for letting her go to, then stay in, Central. Only many years later did...

    (pp. 192-196)

    Lots of students, black and white, identified with Elizabeth. Anyone who’d ever felt abused, or alienated, or lonely, or just different from everyone else—and who in high school hasn’t?—would have. But Linda Monk, a young Harvard Law School graduate from Mississippi who had written on constitutional history and civil rights, was different. She also empathized with Hazel.

    As a seventh-grader in 1970, living in the part of the state where Jefferson Davis had once raised cotton, Monk had tried to keep a black classmate out of a school play about Rip Van Winkle. How, she had asked, could...

    (pp. 197-203)

    For a moment, the two women faced one another. This rendezvous, unlike the last, would not be made memorable by their clothes. Elizabeth wore jeans and a sweat shirt; seeing her now, rounded out, even stocky, it was hard to visualize the slight and fragile girl of forty years earlier. Hazel had already dressed for the photograph, of course, in a beige pants suit beneath a jacket with a blue floral print. She wasn’t crazy about the outfit, but she’d been too busy to find anything better.

    Elizabeth greeted Counts and his wife warmly. Still imagining Hazel as a blonde,...

  33. THIRTY
    (pp. 204-207)

    It was June Shih’s first big break. Only a few days before Bill Clinton was to speak at the fortieth anniversary celebrations at Central, the man assigned to write his remarks had an illness in the family and couldn’t deliver. So the president’s chief speechwriter, Michael Waldman, put Shih on the case. Befitting an epic occasion—Clinton reflecting on one of the formative moments in his childhood, one that had infused his attitudes toward race relations and helped shape his whole political life—Waldman would handle most of the job. But he asked Shih, who had joined the speechwriting team...

    (pp. 208-214)

    No one paid much mind to the two middle-aged women, one white, one black, sitting in the front seat of the burgundy 1990 Toyota Camry as they embarked upon their latest field trip, making their way to some flower show or country garden around Little Rock or heading down I-30 toward Hot Springs, talking continuously and animatedly all the way. By the spring of 1998 the sight of a white woman and a black woman together wasn’t all that odd. But had the other motorists known just who these particular women were, they might well have driven off the road....

    (pp. 215-219)

    Though Elizabeth allowed few people into her life, she made an exception for students. Young people, she believed, were still untainted by racial prejudice, and less likely to exploit her. Now, thanks to a persistent high school history teacher from northern California named Jeff Steinberg, her sessions with them became a regular occurrence. For a program he calledSojourn to the Past,Steinberg, who had long taught about the Little Rock schools crisis, hoped to bring some boys and girls to Central in 1998. When he telephoned Elizabeth to ask whether he could, she was noncommittal. But when 150 of...

    (pp. 220-223)

    Judge Marion Humphrey of Pulaski County Circuit Court in Little Rock had a problem on his hands. One of his probation officers had had a fling with a probationer, and the matter had hit the papers. He needed to hire a replacement fast, someone who would help dispel the stench, someone of instant impeccability. He thought of Elizabeth Eckford. To put it mildly, it was an unconventional choice.

    By this point, after all, Elizabeth had not held a job in twenty years. She had toyed periodically with returning to work, but had never gotten past the interviews: too much baggage,...

    (pp. 224-237)

    For most of its existence, Little Rock had appeared on few travel itineraries. But its days of shame had made it a tourist destination, and not just for busloads of teenagers retracing the civil rights movement. From all over the world they now came. Signs for the “Central High School Natl Historic Site,” its National Park Service brown standing out amid the Interstate green, directed motorists to what was, at least until Bill Clinton’s presidential library was built, the main local attraction.

    Before or after standing in front of the school, visitors would study the exhibit on display in the...

    (pp. 238-241)

    Elizabeth was positively giddy.

    We were at a barbecue joint on the outskirts of Little Rock, with Hazel and Antoine. On the table were piles of denuded ribs and chicken bones in spicy brown sauce, along with half-finished glasses of sweetened ice tea. When the check came, Elizabeth insisted on picking it up. When I resisted—I’d invited them, after all—she gigglingly explained why. She had just gotten her first credit card—it was one of the perks of having a job—and she wanted to see whether it worked.

    In the spring of 1999 I traveled to Little...

    (pp. 242-246)

    ALife Is More Than a Moment.

    That was pretty much what Hazel had told Linda Monk when they first spoke over the phone. And it was what Will Counts decided to call his collection of Little Rock photographs, which was published in the fall of 1999. Counts and his wife marked the occasion in Bloomington, Indiana, where they now lived in retirement. Naturally, Elizabeth and Hazel were invited. While in town, they scheduled a series of events, including a talk with students and an interview at a local radio station.

    Even before the activities began, Hazel detected frostiness from...

    (pp. 247-250)

    On a stage in Chicago, the technicians scurried about, getting things just so forOprah—and for Oprah. Nearby were some of the day’s other guests, each a figure out of a famous photograph from the dying century: the mother of the schoolteacher-astronaut killed on the space shuttleChallenger;the husband and wife who had embraced amid the mud of Woodstock; the crying Vietnamese girl burning from napalm. Sitting nearby, in the front row, were Elizabeth and Hazel. Neither watchedOprahoften, and as they followed the preparations, they were more clinical than star-struck. Hazel took note of how pampered...

    (pp. 251-254)

    Early in 2000 Cathy Collins, the sociologist who had conducted the racial healing seminar Elizabeth and Hazel had attended, invited them for catfish at a local restaurant. Collins planned to write her dissertation on the two of them, and wanted to discuss the project. She had picked up no bad vibes that evening, but Elizabeth had: Hazel seemed very much on edge. Her instincts were sound. Hazel had had enough.

    From one of the self-help books she had taken out of the library, Hazel had learned that before making any crucial decision, Benjamin Franklin had always prepared a chart, listing...

    (pp. 255-256)

    Hazel didn’t have much time to miss Elizabeth: among other things, she was busy with her new great-granddaughter. But relationships of such intensity don’t just die; more than a year after they’d last seen one another, Hazel was trying to patch things up.

    Only once in her life had she ever flown anywhere by herself, and never before had she set foot in New England. But in September 2001 she hopped on a plane to Hartford, then headed by car to Sheffeld, Massachusetts. That was where the Option Institute, an organization she had learned of through her self-help explorations, held...

  43. FORTY
    (pp. 257-264)

    In the fuzzy video, a young man in green pants and a white T-shirt sits on a stone wall in front of a burned-out home. In his hands, lengthwise across his lap, is something that looks like a rifle. His legs dangle over the wall, his feet—black shoes, white socks—swinging nonchalantly. Almost casually, without holding up the rifle or taking aim, he fires a shot into the street, then another. Then there is a siren, the squawk of a police radio, another shot, some more smoke. “Put the weapon down,” someone—obviously southern, obviously a policeman, obviously protected...

    (pp. 265-267)

    Hazel had helped coax Elizabeth out of her shell, but she had also been a crutch. Without her around, Elizabeth’s renewal intensified. She now went on television by herself, including onToday. Her appearances before students grew more frequent, on behalf of organizations like Facing History and Ourselves as well as Jeff Steinberg’s groups from California. Partly with some tough love from Minnijean—“For God’s sake, get rid of those cards! This is your story! You don't need them!” she told her—her fear of public speaking slowly eased. Still, it was not easy for her, as I saw for...

    (pp. 268-275)

    Elizabeth had grown claustrophobic during the crowded reception and, taking a break, looked out the windows of the Rainbow Room. It was after dark, and in all directions from Rockefeller Center there were spectacular panoramas of glistening Manhattan. She pointed toward a nondescript, generic apartment tower, somewhere around 56th or 57th Streets, just south of Central Park. Was that the Chrysler Building? She asked.

    In April 2007, five months short of the fiftieth anniversary of the events in Little Rock, the Nine came to New York to be feted by the African American Experience Fund of the National Parks Service....

    (pp. 276-284)

    Little Rock had early balloting during the presidential election of 2008, and Elizabeth voted as soon as she could on the morning of the day the polls opened. She never thought she’d live to vote for a black presidential candidate, though the pessimist in her believed that Barack Obama couldn’t possibly win. Hazel vacillated between the candidates but eventually voted for John McCain. She found herself a reason—Obama would give away too much money to too many unworthy people—but really, it was bitterness, and a broken heart. Obama seemed like a fair and intelligent man, plenty presidential. But...

  47. Notes
    (pp. 285-298)
  48. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 299-302)
    David Margolick
  49. Index
    (pp. 303-310)