By CAMERON FULLER
In refreshing contrast to their first day of High School 40 years ago, the Little Rock Nine peacefully and proudly entered Little Rock Central High School Thursday with the doors held wide open by President Clinton, Little Rock’s Mayor, and Arkansas’ governor.
Forty years ago, on September 4, Little Rock Central High’s first day of school in 1957 was a site of turmoil that attracted the attention of the nation. Nine black students, now known as the Little Rock Nine, made a heroic effort to break down the walls of racial segregation.
To protect the students from danger and to prevent other protestors from carrying out threats of violence, President Eisenhower sent armed paratroopers from the 101st airborne.
The 40 year commemoration, which was broadcast live by CNN, featured members of the Little Rock Nine as well as President Clinton sharing their recollections of that day.
One of the nine black students who recalled their struggles for respect was Ernie Green. Green gave credit to his parents for helping make this difficult decision and he explained that on that day they were hoping for “a community that wanted to see us blossom, not bleed”.
President Clinton was only 11 years old and lived 50 miles away from the high school on that day. Clinton said the events at Little Rock High formed the driving force in his life for all his efforts to fight off racial discrimination.
“We saw not one nation under God, indivisible … but two Americans divided and unequal,” Clinton said.
Clinton remarked that progress has been made since that day but that problems are still apparent.
“Segregation is no longer the law, but separation is still too often the rule,” Clinton said. “Forty years later we know there are doors still needing to be opened, doors that need to be opened wider, and doors to stop from shutting again.”
Salt Lake City’s NAACP president, Jeanetta Williams, did not have the chance to watch the commemoration but said she supports the efforts that Clinton has made to improve racial relations. She also believes that although progress has been made in the right direction during the last 40 years, progress can still be made.
“Are we where we should be? I think the answer to that question is no,” Williams said.