Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Life Is More Than a Moment: The Desegregation of Little Rock's Central High

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Life Is More Than a Moment: The Desegregation of Little Rock's Central High

Article excerpt

A Life is More Than a Moment: The Desegregation of Little Rock's Central High. By Will Counts, with essays by Will Campbell, Ernest Dumas, and Robert McCord. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Pp. xviii, 76. Preface, introduction, illustrations. $29.95.)

In only his fourth month as a working photojournalist, Arkansas native Will Counts found himself in an ironic position. Assigned by the Arkansas Democrat in 1957 to cover the integration of his alma mater, he decided to costume himself "like someone from the rural South" rather than "like an `Eastern Establishment' journalist" (p. ix). The ruse not only allowed him "to blend into the mob" without fear of assault but to wield his small, rapid-- firing 35-mm. camera with the grace and stealth of a seasoned undercover agent.

In this collection of beautifully-reproduced photographs taken by Counts in Little Rock both throughout the city's protracted school integration crisis of the late 1950s and, by way of contrast, the relatively peaceful years of the late 1990s, the reader cannot help but be struck by the immense political power of those early documentary images of southern hatred and bravery. "It was exhilarating to make a contribution as the nation and the world learned of the injustices that the black students were experiencing" (p. x), he writes, and, indeed, his contribution to public awareness was impressive. It was Counts who captured Elizabeth Eckford's solitary walk through a mob of heckling white students and her frozen, lonely image on a bus bench. Although television newsmen filmed Eckford's plight, it was Counts's still camera that found what he calls the "Decisive Moment" (quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson) in the event: Eckford's stoic, foregrounded figure, shadowed by Hazel Bryan's perfectly-lit, young white face contorted with rage. The classically-framed tableau earned a permanent place in the nation's gallery of civil rights iconography, and Bryan herself later declared that she had become "the poster child for the hate generation" (p. 41 ).

Not content simply to reproduce and reminisce about his justly famous images, Counts insists upon recontextualizing them. Taking his narrative cue (and his book's title) from Bryan, whose changed outlook on race led her to say years after Counts memorialized her outrage, "My life was more than that moment" (p. …

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