Warriors Don't Cry

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Overview

In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. That was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock's Central High School.

Throughout her harrowing ordeal, Melba was taunted by her schoolmates and their parents, threatened by a lynch mob's rope, attacked with lighted sticks of dynamite, and injured by acid ...

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Overview

In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. That was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock's Central High School.

Throughout her harrowing ordeal, Melba was taunted by her schoolmates and their parents, threatened by a lynch mob's rope, attacked with lighted sticks of dynamite, and injured by acid sprayed in her eyes. But through it all, she acted with dignity and courage, and refused to back down.

This is her remarkable story.

Melba Patillo Beals, who as a teenager in 1957 became a key player in a critical civil rights struggle, has abridged for young readers her affecting adult title Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High School.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author was one of nine black teenagers who in 1957 integrated their high school despite violent retaliation. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Julie Hendrix
Melba Patillo Beals was one of the nine students who was allowed to attend an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 as a result of Brown vs. Board of Education. This book documents her first year at the school. This integration was covered by national news, but Melba's first-hand account of her experiences gives a human touch to this highly-political situation. Many people were against this integration and physically gaining entry to the school was Melba's first hurdle. The NAACP escorted her and the other students, but the angry crowds would not allow them to enter the school. Arkansas' governor dispatched the National Guard to keep the black children out of the white school. The U.S. courts intervened, and Melba was admitted into the school. Once inside, Melba faced continuous threats of violence, acts of violence, and racial slurs under the guidance of teachers and school administrators. Because Melba's safety was jeopardized, a special military unit, the 101st Airborne Division, was sent into school. Melba was still abused even with soldiers providing personal protection. Melba uses journal entries and newspaper headlines to deliver her memoir. Segregation, peer pressure, and the division of the country over the issue of integration really come alive through her words. Melba's determination to do the right thing in spite of the tremendous amount of cruelty she faced is stunning. There is a delicate scene in which Melba is nearly raped in retribution for the court's ruling. Reviewer: Julie Hendrix
Library Journal
Beals, one of the "Little Rock Nine'' and a former NBC reporter, writes movingly of desegregating Little Rock's Central High School in 1957-58. Using diaries and contemporary media coverage, she re-creates a time of fear and tenaciously held hopes. The horrors the nine black students faced are told in a teenager's voice, simply and sadly. Robbed of normal adolescence, Beals grew up fast. Her gratitude to the 101st Airborne for their protection stands in stark contrast to her bewilderment over the behavior of Governor Faubus and school officials, who refused to enforce even rudimentary discipline to prevent the daily torture. Beals credits family and friends, along with Daisy Bates, the late Thurgood Marshall, and the press, for their support. Though her use of "re-created'' conversations does not always work, this remains a highly readable tale of courage in the face of persecution that deserves to be read, especially by young people. School libraries should consider, and all libraries with strong black history collections will want to purchase. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/94.]-Donna L. Cole, Leeds P.L., Ala.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Beals, one of the nine black students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957, tells an incredible story of faith, family love, friendships, and strong personal commitment. Drawing from the diaries she kept, the author easily puts readers in her saddle oxfords as she struggles against those people in both the white and black communities who would have segregation continue. Her prose does not play on the sympathy of readers; it simply tells it like it happened. She shares the physical, mental, and emotional torture and abuse she suffered at the hands of teenagers and adults. She also shares the support, the encouragement, and the help she received from both whites and blacks. While the book's length may discourage younger readers, those who begin it will find the reading easy and fast. This abridgement of the author's 1994 adult title of the same name is fascinating as well as enlightening and honest.-Valerie Childress, J.W. Holloway Middle School, Whitehouse, TX
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671899004
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse
  • Publication date: 2/28/1995
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: ABR
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Melba Pattillo Beals is a journalist and member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students who were the first to integrate Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My grandmother India always said God had pointed a finger at our family, asking for just a bit more discipline, more praying, and more hard work because he had blessed us with good health and good brains. My mother was one of the first few blacks to integrate the University of Arkansas, graduating in 1954. Three years later, when Grandma discovered I would be one of the first blacks to attend Central High School, she said the nightmare that had surrounded my birth was proof positive that destiny had assigned me a special task.

First off, I was born on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941. Mother says while she was giving birth to me, there was a big uproar, with the announcement that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. She remembers how astonished she was, and yet her focus was necessarily on the task at hand. There was trouble with my delivery because Mom was tiny and I was nine pounds. The doctor used forceps to deliver me and injured my scalp. A few days later, I fell ill with a massive infection. Mother took me to the white hospital, which reluctantly treated the families of black men who worked on the railroad. A doctor operated to save my life by inserting a drainage system beneath my scalp.

Twenty-four hours later I wasn't getting better. Whenever Mother sought help, neither nurses nor doctors would take her seriously enough to examine me. Instead, they said, "Just give it time."

Two days after my operation, my temperature soared to 106 and I started convulsing. Mother sent for the minister to give me the last rites, and relatives were gathering to say farewell.

That evening, while Grandmother sat in my hospital room, rocking me back and forth as she hummed her favorite hymn, "On the Battlefield for My Lord," Mother paced the floor weeping aloud in her despair. A black janitor who was sweeping the hallway asked why she was crying. She explained that I was dying because the infection in my head had grown worse.

The man extended his sympathy. As he turned to walk away, dragging his broom behind him, he mumbled that he guessed the Epsom salts hadn't worked after all. Mother ran after him asking what he meant. He explained that a couple of days before, he had been cleaning the operating room as they finished up with my surgery. He had heard the doctor tell the white nurse to irrigate my head with Epsom salts and warm water every two or three hours or I wouldn't make it.

Mother shouted the words "Epsom salts and water" as she raced down the hall, desperately searching for a nurse. The woman was indignant, saying, yes, come to think of it, the doctor had said something about Epsom salts. "But we don't coddle niggers," she growled.

Mother didn't talk back to the nurse. She knew Daddy's job was at stake. Instead, she sent for Epsom salts and began the treatment right away. Within two days, I was remarkably better. The minister went home, and the sisters from the church abandoned their death watch, declaring they had witnessed a miracle.

So fifteen years later, when I was selected to integrate Central High, Grandmother said, "Now you see, that's the reason God spared your life. You're supposed to carry this banner for our people."

Black folks aren't born expecting segregation, prepared from day one to follow its confining rules. Nobody presents you with a handbook when you're teething and says, "Here's how you must behave as a second-class citizen." Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day.

By the time I was four years old, I was asking questions neither my mother nor grandmother cared to answer. "Why do the white people write Colored on all the ugly drinking fountains, the dingy restrooms, and the back of the buses? When will we get our turn to be in charge?" Grandma India would only say, "In God's time. Be patient, child, and tell God all about it."

I remember sitting on the dining room floor, writing letters to God in my Indian Head tablet. I painstakingly formed the alphabet just as Grandma had taught me to do in order to distract me from my asthma cough. I could do the multiplication table through ten and read and write simple sentences by the age of four as a result of all those long nights working with her.

When I was five, I had my first true bout with testing the harsh realities of segregation. My family — Grandmother, Mother, Daddy, and my brother, Conrad, plus most of my aunts and uncles — had gathered at Fair Park for a Fourth of July picnic. As usual we were separated from the white people, set apart in a wooded section away from the pool and the merry-go-round. While the grownups busied themselves setting up the meal, I made my escape, sneaking away to ride the merry-go-round. I had had my eye on one horse in particular, Prancer, the one I had dreamed about during all those months as I saved up the five pennies I needed to ride him.

I reached up to give the concessionaire my money. "There's no space for you here," the man said. But I pointed to Prancer's empty saddle. That's when he shouted at me and banged hard on the counter, spilling my coins on the ground. "You don't belong here, picaninny." I didn't know what that word meant. But his growling voice hurt my ears and made my knees shake. Angry faces glared at me as though I'd done something terribly wrong. Scurrying past the people waiting in line, I was so terrified that I didn't even take the time to pick up my precious pennies. At five I learned that there was to be no space for me on that merry-go-round no matter how many saddles stood empty.

As a young child, my life was centered around the big, old, white wood-frame house at 1121 Cross Street that was my home. I lived there with my mother, Lois; her mother, my grandmother India; my father, Howell; and my brother, Conrad. Seven red cement stairs led up to the front door. A giant rubber plant stood just inside the front hallway next to tall mahogany bookcases that held the cherished volumes of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Emily Dickinson, and of James Welden Johnson and Langston Hughes that Grandma and Mother loved so much. Some of the shelves held the textbooks Mother used for teaching seventh-grade English and for the night classes she took to get her master's degree.

Next came the living room with its tattered, overstuffed green velvet chair and matching couch. The half-moonshaped radio with brass knobs sat on a round mahogany table. Wine-colored leather chairs stood on either side. Great-grandma Ripley's clock and a copper horse that had belonged to Great-grandpa rested on the mantel over the fireplace.

The kitchen had a huge old-fashioned stove, a red chrome-trimmed breakfast table and chairs, bright yellow walls, and a linoleum floor with visible marks of wear and tear. Grandma could usually be found scrubbing it sparkling clean or baking cornbread, simmering collard greens, or preparing her special gourmet salmon soufflé. She had learned to cook some of her fancy dishes when she worked as a maid in white ladies' kitchens on Park Hill.

For as long as I can remember, I spent late afternoons with Grandma India in her garden, tending her four o'clock plants. I would stand beside her holding on to her skirt as she pulled the weeds or held the water hose. That's when we had our private talks. Once when I was six or so, I explained to her that I believed each human being was really only a spirit — made by God, and that our bodies were like clothes hanging in the closet. I said I thought that one day I would be able to exchange my body for a white body, and then I could be in charge.

"Some of your thinking is right, child. We are not these bodies, we are spirits, God's ideas. But you must strive to be the best of what God made you. You don't want to be white, what you really want is to be free, and freedom is a state of mind."

"Yes, ma'am, but..."

"I hope you haven't told anyone else about spirits and bodies." She squeezed my hand. "Well, have you?"

"No, ma'am."

"Good. It's time you started keeping a diary so's you can write down these thoughts and share them with me sometimes, but mostly keep them to yourself and tell God."

The next time she went to town she brought me a pink diary that I could lock with a little key. Most evenings before sleeping, I looked forward to going to my bedroom to write to God.

My room was a place for my stuffed animals to live and a home for my huge brown Raggedy Ann doll, the one Grandma India made for me. It was a magical place where I daydreamed for hours as I listened to music or radio shows. There I could be whoever I wanted; I could be white — I could be free.

My brother, Conrad's, bedroom was filled with strange trucks, glass jars of crawly bugs, and a wooden train Daddy made for him. Conrad spent lots of time counting marbles, putting puzzles together, and playing Monopoly. His room always seemed to be cluttered with pieces and parts of things, and Daddy would often march into Conrad's room and demand that he put all his toys and trucks back into the red wooden box they had built together.

Daddy worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad as a hostler's helper. He would arrive home, his huge muscular body obviously tired from the physical labor of his job. Mother constantly reminded him that if he'd finish just one more course, he could graduate from college and have a professional job that paid more. But he resisted, saying he preferred to work outside in the fresh air, where he was free. He loved hunting and fishing and getting away to the wilds where nobody could bother him. It made Mother very angry that he wouldn't follow her advice. I worried they might do what my friend Carolyn's parents did — get a divorce.

The dining room with its big oval table was the place we gathered each night for dinner and evening games. Daddy sat in the brown leather chair, reading his newspaper and working his crossword puzzles. Grandma entertained us with reading or checkers and chess so we wouldn't bother Mother as she studied for her night-school exams. She was determined to complete her master's degree.

With the passage of time, I became increasingly aware of how all of the adults around me were living with constant fear and apprehension. It felt as though we always had a white foot pressed against the back of our necks. I was feeling more and more vulnerable as I watched them continually struggle to solve the mystery of what white folks expected of them. They behaved as though it were an awful sin to overlook even one of those unspoken rules and step out of "their place," to cross some invisible line. And yet lots of discussions in my household were about how to cross that line, when to cross that line, and who could cross that invisible line without getting hurt.

There were so many times when I felt shame, and all the hope drained from my soul as I watched the adults in my family kowtow to white people. Whenever we shopped at the grocery store, they behaved as though they were worried about something.

The grocer, tall, skinny Mr. Waylan, with his Adam's apple sticking out above his collar, his fish-belly blue-white skin and oversized fingernails, was the white man I saw most often. At least twice a week, I would accompany one or more of the adults in my family to his store.

Mr. Waylan's store was one of my favorite places because going there was sometimes like going to a neighborhood party. Mostly our people shopped there, although a few whites from a nearby neighborhood came there, too. There was sawdust on the floor, and the air was filled with the aroma of spices, fruits, onions, nuts, and potatoes. Maybe it was the festive colors and sounds that reminded me of a party.

Early one Friday evening, when the store was crowded, our entire family went in for a shopping spree. We had Mama's teaching check, Daddy's railroad check, and the money Grandma India had earned from her work as a maid. It was one of those times when we all felt joy and peace and lots of hope. I looked forward to the bill paying because the grocer sometimes rewarded Conrad and me with Sugar Daddy suckers after the grown-ups handed over the money.

Grandma was the first to look over Mr. Waylan's bill. Her forehead wrinkled; she mumbled and handed it to Daddy. He looked it over. By the time Mother examined the bill, all their faces were grim. They quickly moved Conrad and me with them to a corner of the store.

They were certain the bill overcharged them by twenty-two dollars. That was more than a day's pay, Daddy said. Still, they seemed frightened to speak up. After lots of whispered angry words, they decided to complain. Although Grandma approached the grocer in a calm, respectful way, he shouted back at her in an angry voice — loud enough for everyone within a block to hear. He said he gave us credit when we didn't have eating money, so he expected us to pay without complaining.

Seeing Daddy's jaw tighten and his eyes narrow, Grandma touched his hand to stay him. There was an ominous silence in the store. Everybody was staring at us. Other people in the store, some of them our friends, stood absolutely still, fear in their eyes.

At first Mother, Grandma, and Daddy stood paralyzed. Then Mother took a deep breath, stepped forward, and said in a commanding voice, "Even when we're being overcharged?"

"You just watch your mouth or you'all will be eating beans next month." The grocer was shaking his fist at Mother Lois. There was fire in Daddy's eyes, but once again Grandma looked at him and he backed down; the three of them cowered like children before a chastising parent. There was a long moment of complete silence. All at once Grandma started to pull dollars out of her purse and Daddy did the same. Together, they paid the full amount.

Mama quickly shoved Conrad and me out the door. We'd make do with what was in our cupboards for the next few days, Daddy said. We wouldn't be going to that store anymore.

On the way home Grandma fussed and fumed, saying she was fed up with buying day-old bread and slightly rotting meat for one and a half times the price fresh food was sold to white folks. I couldn't stop wondering why Mama, Grandma, and Daddy couldn't talk back to that white man.

Daddy was a tall man, over six feet four, with broad shoulders and big muscles in his arms. He could toss me in the air and catch me or hoist me over the fence with ease. Until that moment, I had thought he could take on the world, if he had to protect me. But watching him kowtow to the grocer made me know it wasn't so. It frightened me and made me think a lot about how, if I got into trouble with white people, the folks I counted on most in my life for protection couldn't help me at all. I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that white people were definitely in charge, and there was nothing we could do about it.

The next day Grandma called all her friends and tried to get them to agree to form a group to shop across town. All but one person warned her not to cause trouble. After she had dialed at least ten numbers, she sank down into her chair and sat silent for a long while. Then she picked up her Bible and read aloud the verse that cleared away the tears in her eyes: "And Ethiopia shall stretch forth her wings." With a smile on her face and fire in her eyes she said, "Be patient, our people's turn will come, You'll see. Your lifetime will be different from mine. I might not live to see the changes, but you will....Oh, yes, my child, you will."

But as time passed without significant changes in my life, I was becoming increasingly anxious waiting for Ethiopia to stretch forth her wings. In my diary I wrote:

What if Grandma is wrong? — what if God can't fix things. What if the white people are always gonna be in charge. God, now, please give me some sign you are there and you are gonna do something to change my life. Please hurry!

— Melba Pattillo, age eight, a Sunday school student

Copyright © 1995 by Melba Beals

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First Chapter

Chapter One

My grandmother India always said God had pointed a finger at our family, asking for just a bit more discipline, more praying, and more hard work because he had blessed us with good health and good brains. My mother was one of the first few blacks to integrate the University of Arkansas, graduating in 1954. Three years later, when Grandma discovered I would be one of the first blacks to attend Central High School, she said the nightmare that had surrounded my birth was proof positive that destiny had assigned me a special task.

First off, I was born on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941. Mother says while she was giving birth to me, there was a big uproar, with the announcement that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. She remembers how astonished she was, and yet her focus was necessarily on the task at hand. There was trouble with my delivery because Mom was tiny and I was nine pounds. The doctor used forceps to deliver me and injured my scalp. A few days later, I fell ill with a massive infection. Mother took me to the white hospital, which reluctantly treated the families of black men who worked on the railroad. A doctor operated to save my life by inserting a drainage system beneath my scalp.

Twenty-four hours later I wasn't getting better. Whenever Mother sought help, neither nurses nor doctors would take her seriously enough to examine me. Instead, they said, "Just give it time."

Two days after my operation, my temperature soared to 106 and I started convulsing. Mother sent for the minister to give me the last rites, and relatives were gathering to say farewell.

That evening, while Grandmother sat in my hospital room, rocking me backhave as a second-class citizen." Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day.

By the time I was four years old, I was asking questions neither my mother nor grandmother cared to answer. "Why do the white people write Colored on all the ugly drinking fountains, the dingy restrooms, and the back of the buses? When will we get our turn to be in charge?" Grandma India would only say, "In God's time. Be patient, child, and tell God all about it."

I remember sitting on the dining room floor, writing letters to God in my Indian Head tablet. I painstakingly formed the alphabet just as Grandma had taught me to do in order to distract me from my asthma cough. I could do the multiplication table through ten and read and write simple sentences by the age of four as a result of all those long nights working with her.

When I was five, I had my first true bout with testing the harsh realities of segregation. My family -- Grandmother, Mother, Daddy, and my brother, Conrad, plus most of my aunts and uncles -- had gathered at Fair Park for a Fourth of July picnic. As usual we were separated from the white people, set apart in a wooded section away from the pool and the merry-go-round. While the grownups busied themselves setting up the meal, I made my escape, sneaking away to ride the merry-go-round. I had had my eye on one horse in particular, Prancer, the one I had dreamed about during all those months as I saved up the five pennies I needed to ride him.

I reached up to give the concessionaire my money. "There's no space for you here," the man said. But I pointed to Prancer's empty saddle. That's wh en he shouted at me and banged hard on the counter, spilling my coins on the ground. "You don't belong here, picaninny." I didn't know what that word meant. But his growling voice hurt my ears and made my knees shake. Angry faces glared at me as though I'd done something terribly wrong. Scurrying past the people waiting in line, I was so terrified that I didn't even take the time to pick up my precious pennies. At five I learned that there was to be no space for me on that merry-go-round no matter how many saddles stood empty.


As a young child, my life was centered around the big, old, white wood-frame house at 1121 Cross Street that was my home. I lived there with my mother, Lois; her mother, my grandmother India; my father, Howell; and my brother, Conrad. Seven red cement stairs led up to the front door. A giant rubber plant stood just inside the front hallway next to tall mahogany bookcases that held the cherished volumes of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Emily Dickinson, and of James Welden Johnson and Langston Hughes that Grandma and Mother loved so much. Some of the shelves held the textbooks Mother used for teaching seventh-grade English and for the night classes she took to get her master's degree.

Next came the living room with its tattered, overstuffed green velvet chair and matching couch. The half-moonshaped radio with brass knobs sat on a round mahogany table. Wine-colored leather chairs stood on either side. Great-grandma Ripley's clock and a copper horse that had belonged to Great-grandpa rested on the mantel over the fireplace.

The kitchen had a huge old-fashioned stove, a red chrome-trimmed breakfast table and chairs, bright yellow walls, and a linoleum floor with visible m arks of wear and tear. Grandma could usually be found scrubbing it sparkling clean or baking cornbread, simmering collard greens, or preparing her special gourmet salmon soufflé. She had learned to cook some of her fancy dishes when she worked as a maid in white ladies' kitchens on Park Hill.

For as long as I can remember, I spent late afternoons with Grandma India in her garden, tending her four o'clock plants. I would stand beside her holding on to her skirt as she pulled the weeds or held the water hose. That's when we had our private talks. Once when I was six or so, I explained to her that I believed each human being was really only a spirit -- made by God, and that our bodies were like clothes hanging in the closet. I said I thought that one day I would be able to exchange my body for a white body, and then I could be in charge.

"Some of your thinking is right, child. We are not these bodies, we are spirits, God's ideas. But you must strive to be the best of what God made you. You don't want to be white, what you really want is to be free, and freedom is a state of mind."

"Yes, ma'am, but..."

"I hope you haven't told anyone else about spirits and bodies." She squeezed my hand. "Well, have you?"

"No, ma'am."

"Good. It's time you started keeping a diary so's you can write down these thoughts and share them with me sometimes, but mostly keep them to yourself and tell God."

The next time she went to town she brought me a pink diary that I could lock with a little key. Most evenings before sleeping, I looked forward to going to my bedroom to write to God.

My room was a place for my stuffed animals to live and a home for my huge brown Raggedy Ann doll, the one Grandma In dia made for me. It was a magical place where I daydreamed for hours as I listened to music or radio shows. There I could be whoever I wanted; I could be white -- I could be free.

My brother, Conrad's, bedroom was filled with strange trucks, glass jars of crawly bugs, and a wooden train Daddy made for him. Conrad spent lots of time counting marbles, putting puzzles together, and playing Monopoly. His room always seemed to be cluttered with pieces and parts of things, and Daddy would often march into Conrad's room and demand that he put all his toys and trucks back into the red wooden box they had built together.

Daddy worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad as a hostler's helper. He would arrive home, his huge muscular body obviously tired from the physical labor of his job. Mother constantly reminded him that if he'd finish just one more course, he could graduate from college and have a professional job that paid more. But he resisted, saying he preferred to work outside in the fresh air, where he was free. He loved hunting and fishing and getting away to the wilds where nobody could bother him. It made Mother very angry that he wouldn't follow her advice. I worried they might do what my friend Carolyn's parents did -- get a divorce.

The dining room with its big oval table was the place we gathered each night for dinner and evening games. Daddy sat in the brown leather chair, reading his newspaper and working his crossword puzzles. Grandma entertained us with reading or checkers and chess so we wouldn't bother Mother as she studied for her night-school exams. She was determined to complete her master's degree.


With the passage of time, I became increasingly aware of how all of the adults around me were living with constant fear and apprehension. It felt as though we always had a white foot pressed against the back of our necks. I was feeling more and more vulnerable as I watched them continually struggle to solve the mystery of what white folks expected of them. They behaved as though it were an awful sin to overlook even one of those unspoken rules and step out of "their place," to cross some invisible line. And yet lots of discussions in my household were about how to cross that line, when to cross that line, and who could cross that invisible line without getting hurt.

There were so many times when I felt shame, and all the hope drained from my soul as I watched the adults in my family kowtow to white people. Whenever we shopped at the grocery store, they behaved as though they were worried about something.

The grocer, tall, skinny Mr. Waylan, with his Adam's apple sticking out above his collar, his fish-belly blue-white skin and oversized fingernails, was the white man I saw most often. At least twice a week, I would accompany one or more of the adults in my family to his store.

Mr. Waylan's store was one of my favorite places because going there was sometimes like going to a neighborhood party. Mostly our people shopped there, although a few whites from a nearby neighborhood came there, too. There was sawdust on the floor, and the air was filled with the aroma of spices, fruits, onions, nuts, and potatoes. Maybe it was the festive colors and sounds that reminded me of a party.

Early one Friday evening, when the store was crowded, our entire family went in for a shopping spree. We had Mama's teaching check, Daddy's railroad check, and the money Grandma India h ad earned from her work as a maid. It was one of those times when we all felt joy and peace and lots of hope. I looked forward to the bill paying because the grocer sometimes rewarded Conrad and me with Sugar Daddy suckers after the grown-ups handed over the money.

Grandma was the first to look over Mr. Waylan's bill. Her forehead wrinkled; she mumbled and handed it to Daddy. He looked it over. By the time Mother examined the bill, all their faces were grim. They quickly moved Conrad and me with them to a corner of the store.

They were certain the bill overcharged them by twenty-two dollars. That was more than a day's pay, Daddy said. Still, they seemed frightened to speak up. After lots of whispered angry words, they decided to complain. Although Grandma approached the grocer in a calm, respectful way, he shouted back at her in an angry voice -- loud enough for everyone within a block to hear. He said he gave us credit when we didn't have eating money, so he expected us to pay without complaining.

Seeing Daddy's jaw tighten and his eyes narrow, Grandma touched his hand to stay him. There was an ominous silence in the store. Everybody was staring at us. Other people in the store, some of them our friends, stood absolutely still, fear in their eyes.

At first Mother, Grandma, and Daddy stood paralyzed. Then Mother took a deep breath, stepped forward, and said in a commanding voice, "Even when we're being overcharged?"

"You just watch your mouth or you'all will be eating beans next month." The grocer was shaking his fist at Mother Lois. There was fire in Daddy's eyes, but once again Grandma looked at him and he backed down; the three of them cowered like children before a chastising pare nt. There was a long moment of complete silence. All at once Grandma started to pull dollars out of her purse and Daddy did the same. Together, they paid the full amount.

Mama quickly shoved Conrad and me out the door. We'd make do with what was in our cupboards for the next few days, Daddy said. We wouldn't be going to that store anymore.

On the way home Grandma fussed and fumed, saying she was fed up with buying day-old bread and slightly rotting meat for one and a half times the price fresh food was sold to white folks. I couldn't stop wondering why Mama, Grandma, and Daddy couldn't talk back to that white man.

Daddy was a tall man, over six feet four, with broad shoulders and big muscles in his arms. He could toss me in the air and catch me or hoist me over the fence with ease. Until that moment, I had thought he could take on the world, if he had to protect me. But watching him kowtow to the grocer made me know it wasn't so. It frightened me and made me think a lot about how, if I got into trouble with white people, the folks I counted on most in my life for protection couldn't help me at all. I was beginning to resign myself to the fact that white people were definitely in charge, and there was nothing we could do about it.

The next day Grandma called all her friends and tried to get them to agree to form a group to shop across town. All but one person warned her not to cause trouble. After she had dialed at least ten numbers, she sank down into her chair and sat silent for a long while. Then she picked up her Bible and read aloud the verse that cleared away the tears in her eyes: "And Ethiopia shall stretch forth her wings." With a smile on her face and fire in her eyes she said, "Be patient, our people's turn will come, You'll see. Your lifetime will be different from mine. I might not live to see the changes, but you will....Oh, yes, my child, you will."

But as time passed without significant changes in my life, I was becoming increasingly anxious waiting for Ethiopia to stretch forth her wings. In my diary I wrote:

What if Grandma is wrong? -- what if God can't fix things. What if the white people are always gonna be in charge. God, now, please give me some sign you are there and you are gonna do something to change my life. Please hurry!
-- Melba Pattillo, age eight, a Sunday school student

Copyright © 1995 by Melba Beals

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 111 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(64)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 111 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended - you must check it out

    This book spoke to me to never give up. That i can make a change even at a young age. I think the authors purpose and reason for writing the book was to show teens and children that we can all make a difference no matter how old or young we are or color and race cause at the end were all on the same planet and same world.I think the author was communicating that we can all are diverse and different and that what makes us and that were all here together. What i learned from the book is that i can make a change no matter what race, short,tall, i am cause when we come together as one world we can all make a difference and make a change. I would recommend this book because it is very powerful and inspiring to me and hopefully to do the same with others .

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2009

    An absolute must read

    This book should be required reading for all students. It was a powerful and uplifting story and everyone should be aware of what people had to endure and the sacrifices people made for humanity. This book is good for middle school students to the retired. We should all feel the reality of what happened.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 19, 2013

    great book, i came multiple times. semen is everywhere

    great book, i came multiple times. semen is everywhere

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2011

    Truly breathtaking and magnificent

    This book was awesome! It is good for anyone 12 and over, though I read it at age 9. Melba Pattillo Beals dealt with the horrors of segregation since birth, when her mother was denied help from white doctors and nurses. I personally believe, as did her family, that God spared Melba.
    At age five, she was vindictively denied entrance to a merry go round.
    At age twelve, a crazy white racist guy tried to rape her. However, she was determined that she could be able to integrate so she signed
    up for a integration program. Her name was broadcast over the radio. Over the year at high school, melba dealt with death threats and other things. However, she trusted in God, which I personally believe saved her. I recommend this to anyone who has lost faith in God.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Warriors Don't Cry - Novel of Heart and Strength

    This book is a memoir on the inspiring journey of Melba Pattillo Beals and the rest of the "Little Rock Nine" as they fought to survive as the first African American students to attend an all white school (Central High) in Little Rock, Arkansas. This book is very intense and completely full of courage. Its very inspiring, which is one main reason I enjoyed it so much. I very much loved reading about the student's incredible fight for freedom and loved capturing their feelings from their experiences with dealing with the unfair circumstances they faced because of the color of their skin. Their journey was definitely a rough one, what they had to go through was unbelievable. Their attitudes were mostly positive, as they tried to keep their heads up and ignore all the prejudice and the heartless remarks. Somehow they survived and succeeded and changed the lives of every African American in the 1950s. This is one of my favorite books ever. It was so suspenseful and full of brave and heroic individuals that I respect so much. I was so involved in this book and would love to read another exactly like it. I am so glad I took the opportunity to relive the crazy live's of the Little Rock Nine.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2008

    touching

    This book tells what people had to go through so that we could all have the same education. This book was so touching and an eye opener for the young people who think that have it hard in life....they have no idea what these people went through that we didnt have to do. All young people should read this book no matter the race. Very good book!!!!!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2013

    i think it was good

    i think it was good

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Do nont want to read it

    J

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Annonymus

    U itiots this is a true story i love this book

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2012

    Amazing

    Super good. Our English teacher had us read it once. This story is truly captivating.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2012

    Great read

    Its such an intersting book. It really taught me some thing about what it was like back in the day!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2011

    Great

    I read this book a few years back and the actual events talked about put you right into the 60's and a small but difficult part of the civil rights movement. I also found it awesome how it was written by one of the actual little rock nine. A great work to display unfairness and to prevent repeats and stop such acts like these from happening.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2011

    wanted to put the book down within a few pages :(

    i was assigned to read this book as a school project. i go to a school in an area where the population is mainly black and Hispanics. i am the only white student in my school. many students have made racist comments towards me.know not all black people are like this and many are nice, but some still blame me for slavery and this book will just fuel there need.
    im only to about pg 40 but already it seems that there making many white people the enemy and i know that there really racist people in the that time. but i feel that there ware many exaggerations and i know that some people act the way but really? almost everyone in that town would try to harm you and chase you? i feel that they try to make to make the white population seem so vulgar.
    i understand that they were like that but i felt i dont know. and to tell you the truth i..... i dont know mabye the book will change and i feel different but for know i dont believe some of things that are happening, but maybe they did i just dont understand how that happened when today i dont know any white people are racist towards any other race
    and this happened only 40 years ago i just dont like reading a book where they portray white people like this
    i may be really wrong, but please dont be offended by my thougts or think im racist

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 4, 2011

    Needs to be a Nook Book

    I am looking to buy this book but only if it's in Nook Book format. I need to read this book for school. It is required. I would really appreciate it if you could make this a Nook Book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2011

    very happy

    Book is a great condition and arrived in good bubble package in a timely fashion.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Book

    It was very good book but i find it lacks edginess it was a clincher i can asure u dat but i didnt lyk da format needs a few more pictures it is very realistic.

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2008

    Warriors Don't Cry Review

    Melba Pattillo Beals has written an excellent nonfiction book, Warriors Don¿t Cry. Warriors Don¿t Cry tells the story of the fight to integrate Little Rock¿s all white high school, from the point of view of a student. Melba was a student in an all black high school in the 1950¿s when the federal court ordered Little Rock to integrate its public high schools. Melba was one of the first nine African American students to attend all-white Little Rock High School. She tells the reader about what people did or tried to do to her in sharp detail. This book focuses on the challenges faced by the pioneers of integration, and it shows the courage it took for Melba and the other black children to walk through a mob to go to school every day. It has many lessons to teach, and this book is one of the best books that I have ever read. I loved it. Warriors Don¿t Cry is a wonderful book because it brings to the surface the way people really acted. It is almost unbelievable, but it is painfully true. Melba writes that almost three weeks after the mob stopped her first attempt to enter the school she was finally able to enter the school. However, that day she was forced to leave because the mob wanted to kill them. One of her Little Rock teachers said that, ¿`We may have to let the mob have one of these kids, so¿s we can distract them long enough to get the others out.¿¿ I can not even imagine how it would feel to go to school with the fear of being spit on, beaten up, having dynamite thrown at me or even being killed with a knife. It took great courage for Melba to go to school each day knowing that any of these things might happen to her and that almost none of the teachers would do anything to stop it. The author¿s ability to show this makes this book amazing. Melba¿s book shows how she overcame her fears of going to school. When she was afraid and cried, she talked to her grandmother who she trusted. Melba¿s grandmother told her, ¿`You¿re a warrior on the battlefield for your lord. God¿s warriors don¿t cry, `cause they trust that he¿s always by their side¿¿ (57). This statement, along with many more from her grandmother, allowed Melba to face down her fears of the people in and around school and go back every day. This book taught me about the ways that people can act, the courage that people are capable of having, and their ability to overcome fear. These lessons made this book truly wonderful.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2006

    Fantastic BOOK

    This book puts you into the real shoes of 16 year old Melba Patillio. This is a great book that i recommened to everyone....especially to anyone who likes friendships, trust, and civil rights. READ THIS BOOK

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2006

    Warriors Don't Cry

    Melba was one of the Little Rock Nine, the first nine children to integrate Little Rock's Central High. This non- fiction book written by Melba Beals herslef, shows the integrationists' hope and the segragationists' hatred. It shows how awful people really can be, but also how nice and helpful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2006

    Loved the courage of these teenagers

    This was a fabolous book about nine warriors who attended a crazy racism school. These kids are heroes for doing the right thing wich was not fighting back but fighting for their education. Cuz i probaly would have been killed, going through the harsh and painful stuff they went through from their own school mates.Think god for the little of the right-minded white people who attended their school.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 111 Customer Reviews

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