What Happened Next: The First African American Graduates from Central High

Paul Robeson, a singer, actor, and activist.

In the weeks that followed, the 101st Airborne restored order in the streets. But neither the soldiers nor school officials had much effect on the small but determined group of white students who insulted, humiliated, and physically threatened the “Little Rock Nine” day after day. Still, all but one of the students made it through the year. And in May, Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from Central High.

Singer/actor Paul Robeson was one of many Americans who followed the crisis in Little Rock. In his autobiography, he says of Green and the other eight African American students:

Dear children of Little Rock—you and your parents and the Negro people of your community have lifted our hearts and renewed our resolve that full freedom shall now be ours….You are our children, but the peoples of the whole world rightly claim you, too. They have seen your faces, and the faces of those who hate you, and they are on your side. They see in you those qualities which parents everywhere want their children to have, and their best wishes…go out to you.

Yes, America—these are your children, too, you ought to be very proud of them. The American dream—the spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, of Emerson and Twain—is given new life by the children of Little Rock. These children must ever be cherished, for they are not only the hope and the promise of my people: with them stands the destiny of democracy in America.


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