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'Two Women of Little Rock’ and Their Legacy

Civil rights-era photo spurs lifetime connection

Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery -Little Rock desegregation in 1957

Elizabeth Eckford after she was denied entrance to Little Rock Central High School on Sept. 4, 1957. — Photo by Will Counts Collection/Indiana University Archives

On the first day of school in 1957, an African American teenager strides away from Little Rock Central High School, grasping a book, sunglasses covering her eyes. History records that Elizabeth Eckford, one of the
Little Rock 9 trying to integrate the Arkansas school, didn’t make it inside that day. Behind her, a white girl named Hazel Bryan is yelling racial taunts, her face contorted in anger. The photograph of that moment, taken for the local paper, has become a symbol of that day, and that time.

See also: Boomers support for rights propelled American society.

Eventually, President Eisenhower sent in troops to escort the black students into school. But violence and fear were day-to-day companions for the nine pioneers.

Ironically, that photograph established a connection between these two women for the rest of their lives. By the 1960s, Bryan (Hazel Massery, by marriage) called Eckford to apologize. In 1997, the two women attended a seminar on racial healing.

In his book Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, author David Margolick tells the story of what has happened to the two women in the years since that iconic photograph. Margolick writes about Eckford’s struggle to overcome the trauma of her chaotic and frightening school days. He also explores Massery’s efforts to win absolution for her actions.

For more than 50 years, their relationship has continued to evolve, including an appearance together in 1999 on Oprah.

Listen above to Mike Cuthbert’s incisive interview with Margolick as he recounts a story that still lacks a satisfying conclusion.

You may also like: Test your knowledge about black history. >>

 

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