What Happened Next: The Arkansas National Guard

A white student passes through an Arkansas National Guard line as Elizabeth Eckford is turned away.

For 17 days, the Arkansas National Guard kept the "Little Rock Nine" from entering Central High, but did nothing to disperse the crow of angry whites that gathered outside the building. Perlesta Hollingsworth, an African American who lived near Central High, told a reporter many years later, "The shocking thing to me in 1957 was the number of whites who didn’t participate in the aggression, who wouldn’t do anything but look. Neighbors would express dismay, but wouldn’t do anything, wouldn’t speak out against it, would go ahead and close their doors to it."

Marcia Webb was among those whites. She was a student at Central High at the time and a bystander the day the mob harassed Elizabeth Eckford. She was also a witness to the crowds that surrounded the school in the days that followed. As an adult, she reflected on the choices she made then:

The things that I thought about when I was in high school were the things that most kids did in the 50s. . .the football team. . .dances. . . .I think it was a white person’s world—probably a white man’s world. Most of the blacks you had any contact with in 1957 were your household workers, sanitation department helpers, and that would be the only contact you would have. But I remember the picture in the newspaper of Elizabeth Eckford with the jeering there and you never once thought about what was going on with Elizabeth Eckford. You were glad there weren’t any violent demonstrations, you were glad no one was hurt physically. But then I realized what hurt can come from words, from silence even, from just being ignored. And when I think about it now I think about it with regret. I’m sorry to say now looking back that what was happening didn’t have more significance and I didn’t take more of an active role. But I was interested in the things that most kids are.

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