Historical Parallels between Then and Now
In 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, an event occurred that not only showed African Americans fighting for their rights but also students fighting for their rights to a quality education. Sixteen African American students wanted to transfer to an all white high school, Little Rock Central, which was considered the best school in the city at the time. So, why wouldn’t these students want to go there? They met all the requirements in order to be accepted into the school, all but one “requirement.” Because of their skin color, the students were denied access into the school.
Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Brown v. Board of Education which declared all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional. This led to the desegregation of all schools throughout the country. Unfortunately the governor of Arkansas at the time, Orval Faubus, refused to let the sixteen students into the school and illegally used the National Guard to prevent them from entering.
On the first day, many white teachers and parents protested outside of the school, which discouraged many of the African American students. Sixteen turned into eleven students willing to continue the fight for their education. The students and their supporters eventually contacted President Eisenhower who took the National Guard out of the governor’s hands and had them protect the students instead. The students courageously endured daily racism in Little Rock Central in order to obtain better educational opportunities than they were given in their former schools. But the backlash took its toll and only nine remained after the first day.
Two weeks later, Faubus was able to successfully shut down Little Rock Central High School leaving not only the Little Rock Nine without a school but over 500 white students as well. A year later, the school was reopened and the former students returned. Eventually one of the Little Rock Nine graduated from Little Rock Central, marking a huge step for African Americans students in Arkansas and across the country.
It is the year 2012 and many students are still fighting for their right to an education. Throughout the nation there are mass school closings, and while the closures are occurring, students are rising up to stop their schools from closing. We, the members of the Philadelphia Student Union, a student-led organization, have held many events and participated in many rallies fighting for students’ rights and opposing school closures. In September 2012, we participated in the Journey for Justice in Washington, DC. It was a major event in student history where thirteen student-led organizations from all over the country gathered to protest against national school closings. We gathered at the D.C. School District office and marched together to the nation’s Department of Education.
Although there are some differences between the two events, there are many important similarities between what happened in 1957 in Little Rock and what’s happening across the country in 2012. Youth are still being oppressed with small groups of powerful people making decisions for everyone else. In the 1950s, Governor Faubus and his supporters made the decisions on behalf of hundreds of students in Little Rock, which oppressed the African American students looking for an education. Today, the School Reform Commission, which consists of only five people, decides the fate of thousands of Philadelphia students.
The biggest shared motivation of the Little Rock Nine and PSU students is that we are fighting for our rights as students. Just like the Little Rock Nine, the students of today are not willing to back down and are making it very obvious we deserve a better system that will allow the students of America to grow and learn the way we should.
Written by Nuwar Ahmed, a sophomore at J.R. Masterman High School.