“Learn About” Questions
- How did the riots in Little Rock come about at this time?
- How did the desegregation of Central High School impact the community of Little Rock?
- Who is Daisy Bates and how did she impact the Civil Rights Movement?
“Learn From” Questions
- What news events have surprised or shocked me?
- Have I ever been in a difficult or dangerous situation and had to decide whether to leave or stay? What did I decide and how did it impact me?
- Have I ever been a part of something that may be considered an historical incident sometime in the future?
Well, I appreciate your saying I was in college. I had actually finished college and I was in my first year of teaching and I often share this experience when I talk with groups. I was at home visiting and I think I left the weekend before Ernest was to start school on Monday. So of course, I had been keeping up with the meetings they were having. As I said, my mother was never one to ‘carry on’ about things and we knew that there would be some people who would be less pleased than others when this took place. So I was in my kindergarten room, I think it was my first year teaching kindergarten, and that Monday my principal came over to my class. I was in a portable building. And she said, ‘Treopia, did you know about the riots in Little Rock?’ I said, the what? I said, people in Little Rock don’t riot. I really didn’t believe her. And at that time I was staying with a principal and his wife. His wife had grown up in Little Rock and was a friend of my mother’s, which was I think the only reason she supported my going from Baltimore from Hampton. So we turned on television as soon as I got home, and I could not believe what I was looking at. So I immediately called home because of course I was concerned about my family. And I had just assumed that Ernest would start school that day. And I remember my mother said, and she said this every time I called, ‘We are just fine. You have just started teaching kindergarten. You have your kindergarten children to be concerned about. Don’t worry about us.’ And yet I’m looking at these crowds just going berserk. So I would call home just about every day and we would talk and at one point during that year, I can remember, well a couple things happened. Ernest told me that his physics teacher was one of the only instructors who really showed blatant annoyance at his being there. And of course, physics is not the easiest course in the world. This one day he had done a physics project, took it to school, put it in his locker. Went back out to lunch to pick it up and his locker had been broken into and the project destroyed. And of course, the physics teacher failed him for that project. But as we talked as time went along every year during the year, there was a doctor and he told me, Dr. Wicksam, who became interested in him, he was an instructor at the University of Arkansas Medical School. And he would have him out to his house to tutor every Saturday. And of course, he successfully passed physics but that year was, you know, you’re looking at one thing on television and hearing this very peaceful response from home. At one point, though, my mother asked Ernest if he wanted to come to Baltimore to live with me because things had really gotten rough. But his response was no. He accepted this responsibility and he was going to stick it out. And he did. And in fact, there’s a picture online I believe when he called me the night that he graduated and said, ‘I made it’. Often I’m asked, well, were you at the graduation? No. Because I had just started teaching, and during those days, teachers did not leave their classes until school was out. Nor had I, at that time, no one ever suspected that this would become a historical incident. I always tell people, history is made long after something happens. So I missed the graduation but I was able to take advantage of some of the other things that were offered after they graduated. In fact, shortly after that, the next month I believe, the Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York invited all nine and Daisy Bates, up to New York for four days and they invited me. We had lunch with Raf Bunch at the United Nations. We were guests of Lena Horne at her play, Jamaica, with Ricardo Montalban. We were guests of Governor Averell Harriman in his suite at the Waldorf Astoria and it was a wonderful culmination. And I was happy for them because they needed to have that kind of thing happen to them.