Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Not Anger but Sorrow: Minnijean Brown Trickey Remembers the Little Rock Crisis

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Not Anger but Sorrow: Minnijean Brown Trickey Remembers the Little Rock Crisis

Article excerpt

MINNIJEAN BROWN WAS ONE OF THE LITTLE ROCK NINE who integrated Central High School in 1957. Targeted by segregationist students because she would respond to their taunting, she spilled chili on a group of white boys in December and was finally expelled in February 1958, allegedly for calling a girl "white trash. " This resulted in an image of Brown as the angriest of the Little Rock Nine, even among those sympathetic to her plight. Vice Principal for Girls Elizabeth Huckaby, for instance, wrote: "It was not volatile, natural Minnijean that was our problem. It was just that she and our impossible situation would not mix. "' In an interview conducted in September 2003 in Little Rock, Minnijean Brown Trickey challenged this characterization and offered her own reflections on the crisis, its aftermath, and its impact on her life.

Elizabeth Jacoway: You just said that the person I'm talking to now is not the person I've read about, that all the character assassination was done on.

Minnijean Brown: Right, exactly.

EJ: So what is different about Minnijean Brown from the portrait that was painted?

MB: I don't really know. I've spent, what, forty-seven years trying to get to it. Somebody brought a whole scrapbook to the [Central High National Historic Site museum], a donation. Somebody's wife had kept this whole thing, and my daughter [who works at the museum] was so excited. She said, "Do you want to read it?" and I said, "No." My mother said, "Not only can she not read it, but don't you read it either because it's so vicious." And I hadn't even remembered it because when you're in that situation you are really too busy to think about whether somebody likes you at the newspaper or not, but then my daughter did read some of it. She said, "Well, did you do this, and did you do that?" And I said, "I told you not to read it because you can't ask me those questions because it's too close to me. It hurts too much when you ask me those questions." It was very puzzling to her because she knows me, and then she's reading this portrayal of me. She said "I don't get it, but it's very persuasive." I've thought a lot about it and come to the conclusion for this week that who I am was really too much for them, whether assuming they had to build a whole character around me to justify hating me. So it was kind of cruel when I kind of figured that out. And the other thing, a documentary was made, a Canadian production, and the producer-researcher found all this footage for us to look at, and I saw this one of one of our first press conferences. [Reporters] said, "Why do you want to go to Central?" and I couldn't think of any reason so I said, "Everything is okay as long as we [African Americans] are giving our lives in the war and working hard, but, when it comes for equalization, we are turned down." I was exactly fifteen at that time, and when I saw that about four years ago I said, "Oh that explains who I am." I was there already, and I was that person and had an analysis so I'm fine. I'm no more than I've always been or no less. So that's been good for me. It takes forty-five years, forty-six years to actually start to figure it out, and so coming back here is kind of helping me.

EJ: I'm sure it is.

MB: I couldn't quite figure it out in my other life context. I mean I didn't even tell my kids about it because I couldn't-it didn't make any sense. My daughter was, I think, about fourteen, and the reason for telling her was because Crisis at Central High, Elizabeth Huckaby's movie, was on. I said, "I want you guys to watch this," and they watched it, so then I had to explain to my kids. But I had no, there was-it's kind of like Holocaust people can't tell their kids about it because there is no context. You can't talk about inhumanity to somebody who is sweet and innocent. You don't even want them to know that that exists. I didn't want to discourage them at a young age, so I didn't tell them.

EJ: You didn't even tell them you were one of the Little Rock Nine? …

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