The autobiography, “Warriors Don’t Cry” by Melba Beals focuses on how the black community in Arkansas, Texas suffered to have their children integrated into white-only schools. There are various reasons why Melba and her family wanted the integration of their daughter into Central High School to be successful. During the time, race-specific schools were significantly different. Jones notes that the white-only schools had a better education than the black-only schools (29). Additionally, the separation did not enhance state cohesion. Notably, Melba applied to be part of the students who were integrated into Central High School alone. In the beginning, her parents were not involved in this decision. Her parents, and grandmother’s, involvement is only recorded to have begun when she tried quitting and going back to her former school. This essay discusses whether Melba and her family made the right decision allowing her to integrate at Central High School at 15 years. The essay will argue that the decision was not right as Melba was at a critical age where she was trying to find her identity and the experience of integration contributed significantly to the pressures of self-identity in a 15-year-old teenager.
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Arguably, Melba did not harbor all the required characteristics that were needed for successful integration into Central High School. As a 15-year-old, Melba was trying to figure out who she was as a black American living in Arkansas. Additionally, she was still trying to figure out who she was as a young woman coming of age. Arguably, it was a confusing time for young Melba. One can argue that it is this stress and confusion that is associated with the age that pushed her to apply to Central High School as part of the integration project without informing her parents or grandmother (Beals 17). Arguably, at the time, Melba was courageous but lacked a sense of caution. Additionally, she was anxious for change but was not thoughtful of the consequences of her actions. Also, whereas she was determined her haste also made her selfish. These qualities did not help her successfully integrate into the school despite the larger problem being with the school and the Caucasian community.
Notably, Melba’s relationships changed after her enrolment into Central High School due to the fact that her decision was made in haste and without consultation with anyone. Arguably, her friends felt like she had abandoned them, thus, they refused to speak and be associated with her after her transfer to Central High School (Beals 67). It is also arguable that her friends felt like she had betrayed her race by applying to join a “white” school. This all ties to the issue of identity among teenagers. Critically, Melba’s relationship with her parents and grandmother also changed. Whereas they allowed her to attend the school, they adamantly refused her request to go back to her former high school afterward (Beals 68). Arguably, her parents wanted her to learn that her actions had consequences. Additionally, they wanted her to appreciate that their family was not made up of quitters.
Importantly, Melba’s future personality and outlook on life were severely shaped by the experiences she went through during the integration. As an adult, she still appears to make decisions based on the moment. She marries a white man despite constantly telling her friends that she would never marry a Caucasian. This action can be interpreted (long-term effect) as her attempt to place herself within the “white” circle just like she did when she was 15 years old. It is true that everyone is equal regardless of race. However, proving that she was equal to whites was significantly important to Melba due to what she experienced during the integration. It is important to note that the experience affected Melba physically and mentally. Physically, she was beaten and bullied by the white students. She notes a memorable experience as having to run and hide in the principal’s office so as not to get beaten (Beals 92). While hiding at the principal’s office she had a staff member state that one of the nine black children should be given to the mob to be killed to save the others. Such statements affected her mentally. She was demotivated and would often prefer not to attend school. To some extent, she regretted transferring to the new school and wanted to go back.
It is arguable that integration at Central High School was successful in the end. Black American students were able to graduate despite the challenges. A majority of the nine students were unable to graduate from the school but their resilience and willingness to stay in the school formed the basis of the acceptance of the black community later. Also, Melba grew up to be a phenomenal woman who advocated for human rights and this too can be linked to her time in Central High. Today, the nine black children are considered heroes for doing the unthinkable despite their young age.
- Beals, Melba. Warriors Don’t Cry. Simon and Schuster, 2007.
- Jones, YeVonne A. “I Was the Only One in the Building.” Lived Experiences of Black School Counselors Post-Brown v. Board of Education in Predominantly White Schools. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2019.