It’s Sophia Stuart’s last year at Chatham High—only now the pretty, popular high school senior will be sharing classes with nine black students. The Stuart family has differing views. Her dad and older sister’s husband believe everything should stay segregated. Her brother, Burt, who lost an arm in the Korean War, thinks blacks should have the same rights as everyone else. And her boyfriend, Arnold, just took her to a black church because he likes the minister and the gospel music!
Fifteen-year-old Eva Collins rides in the back of the bus and goes to a separate church. But she’s finally about to achieve one of her dreams: attending Mossville’s first desegregated school. But the governor has just issued a restraining order delaying integration. With the town divided, the National Guard is called in to maintain order. When the final decision is made, an explosion of violence and an act of heroism will transform Eva and Sophia’s lives forever.
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About the Author
Walter’s writing has been honored with many awards, including the 1987 Coretta Scott King Award for Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World, the 1993 Christopher Award for Nonfiction for Mississippi Challenge, and the National Council for the Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Book Award. In 2005 the National Council for the Social Studies honored her again with the Elementary Honor Book Award for Alec’s Primer, and in 1996 she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Most recently, she was acknowledged by the National Women’s Law Center for her role in training freedom riders in the 1960s, with the honors presented by President Barack Obama. Walter has also been interviewed for the Smithsonian African American Historical and Cultural Museum in Washington, DC, for her civil rights contributions. She now resides in San Mateo, California.
Mildred Pitts Walter (b. 1922) grew up in Louisiana. She was the first member of her family to attend college, and then became a teacher and civil rights activist. As a book reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, Walter noticed that there were few books about African Americans, especially for children, and decided to write them herself. She has written over twenty books for children, and has been heralded for her compelling portraits of African American family life. Walter was awarded the Coretta Scott King Award for Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World; Because We Are and Trouble's Child are Coretta Scott King Honor Books. Walter now lives in Denver, where she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996.
Read an Excerpt
The Girl on the Outside
By Mildred Pitts Walter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Mildred Pitts Walter
All rights reserved.
"I'll freeze the ice cream, but I'll have to get a bath first," Sophia shouted as she dashed up the stairs. It would be good to get out of those sticky churchgoing clothes. She felt wilted.
As she turned on the water for her bath, she was flooded with happiness: Arnold Armstrong had asked for an evening visit. This happiness, without worry and anxiety, could not have been imagined when she first knew Arnold was coming home for a brief summer visit. Her excitement had been overshadowed with doubts. Would he even remember her? Or would he still think of her as a special friend? Arnold was the oldest son of the minister at First Methodist, Sophia's church. At nineteen, he was two years older than Sophia, and he had already finished his freshman year at Yale.
Quickly Sophia set the small clock near her bed to alarm at six-thirty, just to remind her not to be late. Then she wrapped her head in a thick towel in final preparation for her bath.
Lying limp in the cool water, Sophia believed this had to be the hottest day ever in Mossville. She let the water ripple over her as she settled farther into the tub, folding her long legs to accommodate her body. There was a surge of relief. The coolness numbed her.
How pleased she was with herself. She was liked. She flushed, remembering the brief encounter with Arnold in the crush of people after the morning service. He was still in his choir robe, his dark hair damp from the hot, moist air.
"Is it all right if I come by this evening?" he had asked.
She had wanted to shout that it would be super, but she'd only smiled and said quietly, "Yes."
"At seven." He had looked her in the eyes. She tried to stop the rush of color to her cheeks, but it spread, making her heart feel squeezed in her chest. She turned away abruptly, made her way through the crowd, and waited for the rest of her family near their car.
Now she turned over onto her stomach, bending her legs at the knee, her feet in the air. The movement made small waves that washed over her back. How wonderful — a bath. What if she could stay right there always? But there was ice cream to freeze; and finally there would be school. Yes, summer was over. No more work at Woolworth's; Arnold would be going back to Connecticut; only two more days before school. Could it be possible that on Tuesday, September 4, 1957, things as she knew them might give way to something terribly new?
Why do they have to come to our school? The thought of Negroes at Chatman brought resentment. Why did things have to change now? This was Sophia's last year at Chatman High. She had dreamed of being a senior, doing all the fun things: homecoming, senior day, the senior prom, and, at last, graduation. What would the year be like with them there?
She now saw the faces of the nine Negroes scheduled to enroll at Chatman as they had appeared on local television and in the newspaper. Three boys and six girls. Only yesterday one of them had shopped at the counter where she worked.
The girl had come in when there were few customers. Sophia watched her hurriedly select bobbie pins, a small comb, and a band of elastic. However, when the girl was ready to purchase the items, Sophia ignored her. The girl waited. A white customer came in. Sophia rushed to help her. Several times Sophia ignored the girl while she waited upon whites who had come in later.
Now Sophia ducked her face under the water and came up smiling. That girl. What patience! Or was she mocking me? Suddenly Sophia felt angry. She fought the feeling but it spread. She became confused. Was she angry at the girl or at herself?
"Sophia, are you going to freeze the ice cream?" Burt, her older brother, called up to her.
"Yeah, I'm coming," she said, regretting she had promised. Why had Ida been given two days off, anyway? She should be there to freeze that ice cream.
Slowly Sophia pulled herself up out of the water. The hot air of the room made sweat pour off her. She carefully dried only between her toes, then ran, naked, down the hall to her room.
The sound of voices spiraled up the stairs and Sophia knew her older sister, May, and her husband, Ken, had arrived. She dressed hurriedly in white shorts and white shirt, still tying the shirt in a knot at the waist as she rushed down the stairs.
Everybody had gathered in the backyard where plants, trees, and flowers were cultivated almost to perfection. The trees offered shade, and the flowers gave off their spicy fragrance in the humid air. In spite of the shady loveliness, it was still sticky hot in the backyard. Yet, it was cooler than inside.
Her mother, Molly, was showing May a beautiful yellow rose. The rose, her mother, and May shared a similar beauty, Sophia realized. She both admired and envied their fair creamy skin, light hair, and light eyes ... the way they looked: fresh, crisp, cool even in that hot weather. She would love to have those qualities, but like her father, Alex Stuart, she was freckled, had red hair, and lively brown eyes. No matter how she tried to be beautiful, she managed always to look like the milkmaid, scrubbed clean.
Burt helped her chip the ice and pile it around the can in the wooden bucket of the freezer. As he concentrated on the task, Sophia marvelled at how well he did things with only one hand. Here he was twenty-five, and he had gone to the Korean War to return with one arm missing. Nevertheless, he typed his own stories for the Daily Star.
A calm, collected kind of peace registered on Burt's face as he chipped away at the ice. He was the male image of Molly and May. Sophia liked how his well-shaped nose and mouth and his fair coloring all added up to a look of distinction. If only she had one tenth of their mother's beauty!
As she turned the handle of the freezer, the conversation between Ken, a member of the state legislature, and her father caught her interest. Their discussion of school integration reminded Sophia of the morning service at First Methodist Church.
The pews had been almost full when they arrived. Sophia sensed a somber, hushed atmosphere. Was it the heat — or fear — that had the congregation in its grip? There were not the usual smiles and howdies. Everyone appeared to be repressing joy, withholding. Still, they seemed expectant.
Her father, tall, straight, his red hair and freckles giving him a boyish look, led them to their seats with long strides. Sophia sat next to him with Burt between her and their mother. She loved singing with her father's baritone on one side, and Burt's bass on the other. Her father's singing was as impressive as his speaking. Sophia often wondered what he would have become if he were not Mossville's busiest attorney.
Right then, her father and Ken were talking about legal ways to keep those Negroes out of Chatman. Burt left her alone near the back steps to finish the job of freezing the ice cream, in order to join their conversation. Sophia knew that the heat in their backyard would now intensify.
Ken and her father were allies against Burt. Her brother had the unusual gift of speaking up and saying things that few people in Mossville were apt to say. More than once Sophia had heard her father angrily denounce Burt as a communist. Of course, all her father meant was that Burt liked Negroes a bit too much.
Sophia admired Burt more than anyone she knew, but she, too, often felt that he was "way out."
The slowly turning crank of the freezer brought to mind the monotonous twirling of the big fans overhead at church. The service had progressed from songs to prayer, to collecting the offering, and then to the choral selection before the sermon. Burt sat back, relaxed, soothed by the singing. Their father was on edge, upright in the pew, dissatisfied.
Finally, the Reverend Armstrong rose in his black robes.
Sophia now recalled the minor heat wave she had felt just looking at him.
Without his usual preliminary humor, the minister proceeded in his humble yet impressive way to announce his text reading from Nehemiah, chapter 4, verse 14:
And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses....
At the reading of the words her father relaxed, sat back in the pew. Burt's back stiffened, his jaw quivered. What was Burt thinking, Sophia wondered.
Burt's real voice now startled Sophia. "It is the duty of a minister to comfort the people and show them peaceful ways to solutions," he said. "That sermon this morning declared war in Mossville against Negroes in the name of the Lord."
"War was declared when the courts said we must let Negroes into our schools," her father said.
"Our schools," Burt shouted. "What do you mean? Our schools?"
Has he lost his mind? Sophia asked herself. How could he expect to remain in the discussion if he shouted foolish statements.
Everyone knows the Negroes have their own schools. Chatman High is ours.
"They damned well are our schools," Ken said, "and we have just passed three major pieces of legislation to tighten our control over them."
"They certainly are not," Burt said. "Public schools belong to the public, to the people who pay taxes. Negroes pay taxes in this state. So they have every right to claim Chatman High and any other public school in this state as theirs."
"Oh, don't be an ass, Burt," May said. May seldom spoke. When she did it was either to reprimand Burt or to soothe Ken.
Her mother headed for the kitchen. Sophia knew that the pained look on her face was because of Burt. Her mother felt that Burt had lost his way since he came back from the war.
What Burt said was moral and right, Sophia knew; yet she resented his saying it. But in spite of her resentment, she could not help yielding to the strange curiosity, the wondering: What would it be like in the same classroom with Negroes? Heaven forbid such a thought! Her parents would die. Still, the thought brought a rush of excitement. It might not be so bad. The impression lasted only for a moment, but that moment was enough to reveal how free Burt must feel when he took the side of Negroes.
The crank was now almost impossible to turn. The ice cream was frozen. The argument went on. Sophia moved away from the back steps and sat near Burt, listening to the discussion.
"We'll soon see what rights Negroes have. The governor hasn't given in yet," her father said. "I'll wager the courts will call a halt to this nonsense before Tuesday."
"I'll wager that the time for people who think like you is over," Burt said. "Negroes will be in Chatman when school opens, or Chatman will not open."
"But they have their school. Why can't they leave us alone?" Sophia shouted. She saw the look of surprised pain on Burt's face. She ran from the yard through the house up the stairs and slammed the door to her room. The noise resounded in the backyard.CHAPTER 2
Eva Collins did not wait around while the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church reluctantly separated to make their ways home through the dusty, unpaved streets. She did not even wait for her little sister, Tanya, nor for her mother who chatted with neighbors on the church grounds.
Eva carefully picked her way through the dry, rutted street to avoid damaging her white sandals. There were too few sycamore and chinaberry trees to blunt the heat. The glare of the broiling afternoon sun hurt her eyes. Sweat poured from her face, around her neck, down her back and bosom. Dampness oozed through to her belt. Eva felt an urgency to get home and undress.
The heat that met her when she opened her front door was not unexpected, but it was disappointing. She often dreamed of entering a room of her own and finding it as cool as a vault. When would she stop dreaming? Dreaming of being waited upon, in her proper turn, at Woolworth's; of sitting in any vacant seat on the bus; of walking through Boyle Park; of going to Chatman High ... dreams, dreams. But at last one of those dreams was coming true. She would be going to Chatman.
She went through the house to the back. Roger Collins, her father, sat on the shaded side of the porch, fanning himself to keep cool. Why was he home at this time of day? He always worked overtime, even on Sundays, at the small grocery store owned by the family. Eva was surprised to see him.
"I'm home," she shouted, from inside the screen door.
Her father, more than six feet tall, weighing easily two hundred pounds, was not a church-going man. But he often said he feared the wrath of God, so he loved his neighbors.
"And what did the preacher have to say so long on this hot day?" her father asked.
"Same thing everybody else is talking about — us going to Chatman."
"Eva, you know I'm proud y' one of 'em that's going."
Eva's heart beat faster and for a moment she felt she would cry. She knew that the decision for her to go had not been made lightly. Her mind flashed to the day she and her parents had first heard about the plan to desegregate Chatman High.
Mrs. Floyd, the president of the Mossville branch of the NAACP, had come into their grocery store with two well-dressed men who were from out of town. It was pouring rain.
Eva wished it was raining now to cool this scorching day. She thought of how pleasant Mrs. Floyd had been when she said, "Eva, I'm glad you're here. Maybe you can watch the store while we talk to your mom and dad."
Eva's parents led Mrs. Floyd and the men toward the back into a small room that served as an office. They talked for a long time. Finally, Eva's father called her into the room.
With Mrs. Floyd and those distinguished men about, Eva realized for the first time how shabby the room looked. The unshaded light bulb overhead cast shadows on the dingy white-washed walls. Flypaper hung from the ceiling with its catch in full view. But when Eva looked at her father, she knew he could hold his own in any company.
Looking at her father fanning himself, she now felt the love for him she had felt that day when he said to those men, "This is Eva, my oldest daughter. I think she might be interested in your plan."
As she remembered this scene, Eva rushed to her room, stripped down to the skin, and took a shower. The water pelting her body, reminded her so of that rainy day.
Mrs. Floyd had introduced the two men. "Eva, these men, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Cook, are lawyers from our NAACP national office. They're here to help get some of us into Chatman High. Think you'd like to go to Chatman?"
Eva's heart beat wildly. "Oh, wow! Me ... go to Chatman?" she cried.
Mr. Johnson smiled and said, "It's not as simple as that, Eva. We want you to think seriously about this."
"And, of course, we must tell you it will not be like going to your old school, Carver, at all," Mr. Cook said. "In fact, as we have been explaining to your parents, there's possibly some danger involved."
Eva could now see her mother as she looked that day, sitting with her hands folded in her lap, her eyes down. Only the sound of the rain beating on the roof and panes could be heard in the room.
Then her mother said, "Now this danger y'all talkin' 'bout, I don't know if our children can handle it. So I don't know 'bout Eva gittin' involved."
"Audrey," Mrs. Floyd said to her mother, "we know there's some risk. But we think there is less risk here. You know our state university was integrated long before the Supreme Court desegregation decision of 1954. I believe if any people in the South are ready for integration, it's the people in Mossville."
"What y' think, Eva?" her father asked.
Suddenly, Eva could see Chatman, the three-story brick building with its tall white columns and great stone lion at its front doors. That lion had always seemed as forbidding to her as the FOR WHITE ONLY signs she saw throughout the town on water fountains, rest rooms, and park benches. The thought of passing through those doors made her shiver with a strange excitement. She didn't know if it was joy or fear. Eva was glad that her mother did not give her time to answer before she said, "Roger, I don't think Eva knows what t' think in this matter."
"It's Eva that's gonna be going," her father said. "Eva?" Eva felt the tension between her parents and sensed the fear in her mother's voice. She looked at the two men and then at Mrs. Floyd. She put her head down. "I don't know." She thought about her boyfriend. Would Cecil be going? "How many of us going?" she asked.
"We're trying to get nine students to enroll," Mrs. Floyd said.
"Hmmm. I ... I think I'd just as soon stay with all m' friends at Carver." She looked at her father. "I'm not sure it's worth it, if it's dangerous."
Excerpted from The Girl on the Outside by Mildred Pitts Walter. Copyright © 1982 Mildred Pitts Walter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the year 1957, seventeen-year-old Sophia Stuart lives in Mossville, a town in a southern state, perhaps Arkansas, and will be a senior at Chatman High School. Her father Alex is the town's busiest attorney, and her mother Molly is a typical southern belle. Her older sister May is married to Ken who is a state legislator. Her older brother Burt returned from the Korean War minus an arm but is doing well as a reporter for the Daily Star. And she is being courted by the minister's son, Arnold Armstrong, who is home for the summer after finishing his freshman year at Yale. However, there is a problem overshadowing the town. The United States Supreme Court has ordered that schools be desegregated, and nine black students have enrolled at the formerly all white Chatman High. It seems that nearly all her family and even the whole town is against the desegregation order--including the minister, Mr. Armstrong, who preached a Sunday sermon that seemed to declare war on the blacks. The exception is Burt, whom his father calls a Communist because Burt liked Negroes too much. And Arnold too. Eva Collins is fifteen years old and lives with her father Roger, a storekeeper, mother Audrey, and little sister Tanya. Eva has been a student at all black Carver High but was chosen by Mrs. Floyd, president of the Mossville branch of the NAACP, to be one of the nine blacks to enroll at Chatman. She will be a sophomore. Her mother is afraid for her with rumors of death threats, but her father supports her decision, even to sitting up all night with a shot gun to make sure that no one attacks their house. Eva's boyfriend, Cecil, really doesn't want her to go, but he still appreciates her courage and stands up for her willingness to pave the way for others. The first several chapters of the book relate the activities of Sophia and Eva during their last days of summer vacation before school starts. On the first day of school, the blacks are urged to stay home while the governor asks the judge for a restraining order and calls out the National Guard "to protect the citizens." The following day, the blacks are again urged to stay home until the judge announces his decision, but word doesn't get to Eva in time, and she goes to Chatman. Thinking the Guard is there to protect her, she tries to enter the school, but the guardsmen raise their rifles and point at her! All through the book, Sophie is torn. She doesn't hate blacks. The Stuarts' housekeeper Ida is black, and Sophie loves her. Also the groomsman at the stable where she keeps her horse is black, and he is a nice guy. But she and her friends have made a pact that they will not look at, listen to, or speak to any blacks in their school. So when she sees Eva, having been turned away by the Guard, sitting at the bus stop, being yelled at and spit on by the crowd, what will she do? There are some euphemisms, and one usage each of the requisite "d" word, the "h" word, and the term "Lord" used as an interjection that modern writers of children's literature evidently feel that they have to throw in for the sake of "realism." There are also several references to dances and the prom. However, the Collins family, including Eva, frequently engages in prayer both to ask the Lord's help and to thank him for His blessings. The story does an excellent job of portraying the hopes and fears of both whites and blacks during this critical time in our nation's history.
Have you ever read a book that at times you hate, and the other times you love? That is how I feel about The Girl on the Outside. It is about two girls (one black, one white) who lived when there was segregation. The black girl was one of the nine negro students enrolling for Chatman High, an all white school. The white girl is a senior and doesn't want the blacks to come, she says they will ruin her school. It was an interesting story about something that really happened and at timesI had a hard times taking my eyes away from the book. I enjoyed learning about the way blacks and whites used to think of each other. Yet, sometimes the story got pretty boring (factual - kind of like a history book). Most of the things that happened in this book I had already learned a long time ago. To sum it all up, I had mixed feelings about this book and if you were trying to pick out a book to read, I'd ask someone else for advice. I would give this book three stars.
Girl on the Outside by Mildred Pitts Walter is a fictional book that tells you about the integration in 1957. I think people who like stories about the past will really like this book. This book is about a white and a black girl who is part of this integration. The white girl doesn't want the blacks at the school. On the other hand the black girl is going and she thinks it is a good idea. I think kids and adults should read this book because you could really get into the book and it is a really good book.