freedom

THE 2018 NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT

 

On the eve of Memorial Day, a star-studded lineup will grace the stage for one of PBS’ highest-rated programs. This multi-award-winning television event has become an American tradition, honoring the military service and sacrifice of all our men and women in uniform, their families at home and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

 

This program will encore Sun., May 27, 8:30 pm.

 

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
ACORN and the Firestorm

 

Explore the politically charged battle to take down ACORN, a controversial national community organizing group. Working with lower income communities, the group was investigated by undercover journalists, cutting to the heart of the political divide.

 

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
True Conviction

 

After serving a combined 60 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, three recently exonerated Texans join forces to form the unlikeliest of investigative teams, on a mission to help wrongfully convicted prisoners obtain freedom like they did. In True Conviction, brotherly bonds are formed out of shared hardships — lengthy prison sentences in a state that executes more inmates than any other.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
They Did It Their Way

 

Long Story Short looks back on three previous guests who paved their own paths in life and followed their instincts, often against the grain of society’s expectations. Featured: Marion Higa, who spoke truth to power as Hawai‘i’s State Auditor; Kitty Lagareta (now Kitty Yannone), CEO of public relations firm Communications Pacific, whose career has been punctuated by a healthy dose of risk; and Kimi Werner, who gave up her success in competitive spearfishing to reconnect with the ocean in a more meaningful way as an environmental advocate.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

They Did It Their Way Audio

 

They Did It Their Way Transcript

 

Transcript

 

MARION HIGA: At times, it felt almost personal.  But I didn’t take it that way, because it was my job.  And I always go back to the constitutional language; this is what the constitutional drafters expected of this office.  And as long as I’m doing that, then any governor can complain as much as they like.

 

KITTY YANNONE: I’ve had Democrats publicly won’t have anything to do with me. But late at night, when they need some advice, they call me, and they return my calls.  I’ve had media people.  I think when you’re a little more outspoken and they have a sense you’re authentic about it, they return your calls.  And you know what?  It never stopped me from doing what I do, with the utmost integrity and professionalism.

 

KIMI WERNER: All I just told myself is: I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing in my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that.  And that’s the feeling that I wanted.  I didn’t quite know what type of path that would take me on, or how it would affect my career, but I just knew I wanted that back.

 

Marion Higa stood up to two governors to stop an auditing practice that she felt was inappropriate.  Kitty Yannone defied the local political system by supporting a Republican for governor.  And Kimi Werner was at the peak of her powers when she quit national spearfishing competitions.  They followed their instincts and their hearts, and they did it their way, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Sometimes, it takes an enormous amount of courage to do what you know to be right, when others want you to do otherwise, when it would be much easier to simply to go with the flow.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we revisit three women who have previously been guests on this program.  Each followed her own path, respectively refusing to give in to political pressure, community disapproval, or turning away from a popular identity that did not reflect her core values.

 

We begin with Marion Higa.  For almost two decades, she was the Hawai‘i State Auditor, investigating the use of State resources and exposing inefficiencies. She as unflinching when agencies criticized her, knowing she had a job to do, and believing she was representing the best interests of the people of Hawai‘i.  One of the highest visibility audits she performed was on the Superferry. The State government wanted the Superferry to be up and running as soon as possible.  But the community was divided in its support for the ferry. The State Auditor was called in to analyze the administration’s environmental review.

 

The environmental groups had challenged the lack of the EIS early enough.  I think it wasn’t completed by the time they started sailing because you might remember that the first ship was delivered. And I think Superferry was trying to avoid the timetable, and so they had planned to start service to Nawiliwili, again, because they could do that most easily.  And people in Kaua‘i jumped in the water and kept them from docking, so they never docked.  They had to turn around and come back.  Now, in the course of all of this, then the State had put up forty-two million dollars’ worth of improvements.  But because of the way they designed or had to design these improvements, and the sourcing of these materials, it could not be used, because they were not U.S.-sourced. That was the other problem.

 

What did you hear from the administration about that?

 

Oh, they objected, of course, to our findings, and had their own responses. But I mean, we could support our findings.

 

What was your recommendation? 

 

I think our recommendation was … well, first of all, the EIS; I mean, there was no question that they had to follow the EIS.  But I think eventually, we softened the recommendation, because there was the other court case that was still proceeding and was going to the Supreme Court.  So, I think we predicted that nothing be hard and fast decided until that case was settled. Eventually, the court came down, one could say, on the side of the environmentalists, and required the EIS.

 

How did you feel about the stinging rebuke from the administration?

 

I didn’t take it personally.  I mean, I expected it, because there was so much at stake.  And I understood that even the legislators, some of the legislators who had been avid supporters would be disappointed, at best.

 

Especially since they had put through a bill that allowed … it seemed it was written for a particular company, but general language was used, except the timeframe was so short that it looked like it was written specifically for the Superferry.

 

Yes; it looked like special purpose legislation, which again, is not permitted by State law.

 

And so, that was people you worked for who were on the other end of criticism.

 

That’s right.  And so, you know, they’re party to that process.  But again, it’s like: Well, that’s my job, I have to say it the way it is.

 

Even if it’s your job, and you say you’re doing it on the straight and narrow, what’s it like riding that wave, where basically are taking shots at you as you take that position?

 

You know, like I said, it’s my job.  This is what the constitution was intended for us to do, and if we can defend the work.  And so, the process seems so laborious, and it’s so careful.  There’s a whole system; it’s all electronic now, the working papers are electronic.  But there’s a citation system involved in our work, so every fact can be traced back to a source document.  And so, working for the Auditor’s Office is not easy.  You have to be very meticulous, and be able to defend your work. But as long as the overall conclusions are supported by this mountain of evidence, it’s all defensible.

 

I always used to think it was so funny when you’d come walking into a legislative hearing room, hearing about an audit of the administration.  I mean, how tall are you?

 

Four-ten; barely four-ten, more like four-nine.

 

Four-ten; and it was as if a towering figure were coming in, this shadow was entering the room.  Did you get that feeling, that’s how people were reacting to you?

 

Sometimes; yes.  Uh-huh; uh-huh.

 

And you wouldn’t back down, either.

 

No, because that’s not my job.  My job is to support the report, because that stands for our work.

 

Any memorable exchanges between you and someone else?

 

A few times.  I guess I was at … Ways and Means once, and I had a minority member ask me … hunched over the table like this, he says: Ms. Higa … who do you work for?  Who do you work for?  Ms. Higa, who do you work for?  And I said: The people of Hawaii.  No; who do you really work for?  The people of Hawai‘i.  What he was trying to get me to say was, I work for the majority party.  And that’s not who I worked for.  I said: The constitution says I’m the auditor, I’m the State Auditor, I work for the people.  So, he gave up.

 

Kitty Yannone, formerly known as Kitty Lagareta, started her professional journey as a volunteer fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House.  This eventually led to her present career as the CEO of a successful company offering integrated communication services.  Kitty Yannone is known for following her instincts.  She’s bucked public opinion, and risked her business.  One of her biggest risks was in ardently supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

 

I’d met Linda Lingle when she was mayor of Maui through some volunteer work with high school students that we’d gone over there to do, and I didn’t know her very well at all.  And she called one day and wanted to meet with me.  And my husband answered the phone, and he said: The mayor of Maui wants to talk to you.  I’m like: Why does she want to talk to me?  It was like, a Sunday.  I go: What does she want?  And he goes: Why don’t you talk to her and find out.  She asked if she could meet, and she was thinking about running for governor in a couple years.  This was maybe a year or two.  And so, I went and met with her.  I think I spent five hours asking her questions, and I knew nothing about politics. And she said: That’s okay, we’ll figure it out; it’s a big race, I need a communications person, I think you’re kind of a smart person.  And I’d volunteered on a couple political things, but nobody ever wanted to use that part of me they wanted me to stuff envelopes, which was fine, or do stuff which was happy to do, and it’s important stuff.  But I was kind of intrigued by having somebody want me to be involved in the strategic side.  So, I started helping her in ’98, and I immediately got calls from a lot of people around town, friends, parents of kids.  You know, if you’re gonna do politics at this time, it’s really kinda stupid to get involved with the party that has no power.  And I said: Yeah, but I like this candidate, and I really want to do this.  And I didn’t lose any clients; no clients said: I’m gonna quit.  They just, I think, were kind of bemused.  And Linda came within five thousand votes, and it was a huge learning and a wonderful experience for me, except for the losing part. But we all took it harder than she did. And before we had even let the dust settle, she was saying: We’re gonna do this again in 2002.  And I remember thinking: Eee, I don’t know.  But of course, I was onboard for 2002.

 

Had you suffered business-wise, advocating for her?

 

You never know what you don’t get.  I think once people realized she was a serious candidate, I certainly did, you know, I think.  And I tend to vote for people, and like people more than parties.  I don’t really feel connected to parties.  I’m sort of a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And particularly during that time, it was like somebody had branded a big R on my forehead; she’s a Republican. And all that they equate with anybody of any political party is interesting.  And so, that was a new experience for me.

 

But you weren’t following the playbook of most public relations executives.  You were following your mind and, to some extent, your heart.

 

Yeah. You know, I believe in that, because I think a lot of executives, if they can, they do that.  And I just feel even when it’s a learning experience, having the experience makes me better overall.  And that was a learning experience.  And by gosh, in 2002, we pulled it off, and that was interesting. And I thought we were done.  That was the other thing, kind of still had naïveté, not having been in politics.  It was like: Okay, we’re done, I can go back to my life.  And I remember Linda called and she said: You know, I think you would be one of the people I want to recommend for Board of Regents.  And I remember saying: Oh, why that?  I mean, I don’t know.

 

Talk about political.

 

She had to talk me into it.

 

What you got into was a mire with the president of the University, Evan Dobelle.

 

Yeah.

 

And a very slippery situation.  And your expertise is public relations, but it was very hard to manage it. 

 

Yeah; and it’s hard to be in it and manage something.  I know that.  Therapists will tell you: I can’t do therapy in my own family.  When you’re one of the players in something, and everybody’s got their own opinion, you’re not the PR managing something then, I think.

 

And as the chair of the Board of Regents.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, I think there was a perception at some time that you were bungling it.

 

Yeah; yeah.  I actually thought I was.  I knew it was bungled, but I also had the perspective of there was a whole bunch of stuff.  You know, it was an employee-employer relationship between the Board and Evan. And there are certain laws you have to follow, confidentiality and things.  So, we were not in a position to say: Hey, we tried this, we did this. And I think the employee can say whatever they want pretty much, really.  And you see that over and over.  So, that was a disadvantage, and it was hard.  The other part was, you know, you will never know the effort we made to do it carefully.  And the sense, I think, that was there was that, I have this contract, no way you’re gonna get me out of it, and I’m not going anywhere.  And as time went on, I think it became clear the University was suffering, and we had to do something.  And in fact, our creditors told us that.  And it felt very bungled.  It felt like there were lots of pieces that you couldn’t control.  It was horrible watching the public perception of it, and knowing there was another story, but you can’t be the one to tell it. You’re the employer.  That was really rugged, I think for all of us. And yet, I found the decision we made to be the right one.  I’ve never regretted that decision.  How it unfolded and what it looked like on the outside; yeah, there was a lot of regret about that, but not the decision.  And I don’t think any of us did.

 

So, the right outcome.

 

The right outcome; and it really was.  You know, that’s the decision.  I mean, there were regents who quit because they didn’t want to go down.  They knew what needed to be done, but they didn’t want to be in the middle of all that.  And there were some amazing people who stuck around and said: This needs to be done for the good of our university.  And I think there is some vindication in what happened at Westfield College.  It’s pretty much what happened here.  That’s taken a different more public turn, I think.  But came many years later, but it was there, and we did make the right decision. And under David McClain’s leadership, we went on to have some finished capital campaign, move a lot of things forward at the University.  And I look at it that way and say: Yeah, there was some personal pain, and I could have avoided it, but maybe it wouldn’t have been the right people in the room to make the decisions that I think were good ones if all of us had done that.  I’ve never found discomfort to be an inhibiting factor.  I used to give a speech after—this was when they were saying: Fear is your friend.  I use it as like, rocket fuel.  When I feel that, it tells me to turn on all my senses and look at something carefully. But sometimes, it really energizes you. And maybe that’s what I get from my mom and dad.  ‘Cause my mom and dad, in their own way, overcame a lot of stuff in their lives, built a really nice life for them and their family, and still do.  And they had certain values, and it didn’t include being afraid, or being uncomfortable, being something that pulls you up.  Yeah.

 

I’m sure you had some sleepless nights over the regents matter.

 

Many; I think I didn’t sleep for like a whole year.

 

And that was okay with you, ‘cause you felt like you were doing the right thing?

 

I felt like we were doing the right thing, and I felt like, you know, sometimes that’s what they call—that’s what I consider when I see people go through that, and I do with my clients sometimes, who are struggling with hard decisions and want to do the right decisions.  And I think I’m grateful I’ve had that experience a few times in my life, because I think that’s what you call political courage.  I call it that when I see it in other people.  And when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel like any kind of courage; it feels like a nightmare.  But in the end, if something good came out or a group of people were able to come together to make something happen that was right or needed to happen, or bigger than they could do on their own.

 

What if it fails?

 

Yeah; it does.  I failed in ’98.  Do you know how many people wouldn’t even talk to me after ’98?  She’s the one who went to the other side, you know.  I lived through it.  I don’t know; I feel like I have to live in this world and do things that I think are important.  I can’t always defer to, that might hurt my business, or that may not.  Then I’d just be kind of a shallow person, I feel.  You have gauge with life and with issues, and with people, and the world you live in.

 

Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, known as Kimi, is a roving ambassador for the American Clothes Company Patagonia, as well as a trained chef and self-taught artist.  She grew up in rural Maui, tagging along on ocean dives with her father as he hunted for fish to feed the family.  Unsatisfied with her early career choices, she started thinking that maybe her childhood pastimes could still be part of her life.  She learned to spearfish, became an accomplished free diver, and a national spearfishing champion.  Yet, despite the success and recognition she was gaining through her awards, she realized that spearfishing competition wasn’t the right thing for her, either.

 

You know, my first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special.  And coming back home to Hawai‘i was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion.  And the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for.  But I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like I just always had a title to defend.  I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me.  And I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food.  And once I realized that, I didn’t like it.  I just realized it’s changing me.  You know, it’s changing this thing that’s so sacred to me.  It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this.  And it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition.  And this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again.  Am I really gonna do this to it?  Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing titles?  Like, I didn’t like that.  And so, just for those own personal reasons of how I found it affecting me, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely.  I mean, it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in the peak of what could have been my career.  You know, I had sponsors now, and you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me.  And all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it.  And it let down a lot of people, and definitely disappointed people. And for myself too, I mean, I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost.  I didn’t really know who I was without that.  It had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department.  It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more.  And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, I definitely felt like a loser.  You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt like I didn’t quite know if I would like … you know.  I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have.  I didn’t know how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

What happened, then?

 

It took me a while, actually.  It was probably a year where a lot of times I would go out diving, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be.  You know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet, it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting.  And it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish.  And then, I really would beat myself up.  Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up.  And I got pretty depressed.  But through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, couple friends of mine like said: You need to get back in the water.  Like, let’s go.  And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still fighting itself, and I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have it anymore.  And so, I’m like: Let’s just pack it up and go, guys.  I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home.  And they said: Okay, let’s go.  But then, I said: You know what, let me just take one last drop.  And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive.  And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe.  But I just took a dive, and just told them to watch me, you know, took a dive.  And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand.  I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand.  And I laid there, and I let every single critic come through my head, every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come.  And I listened to every single put-down, worry, concern, fear.  And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just still waited, held my breath.  Okay, what else you got; give it to me.  You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left.  And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, hadn’t already heard.  Like, it just went quiet.  And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.  I think the competition, and just more than that even, just the expectations that I was putting on myself.  And I think that can happen a lot with anybody who tries to turn their passion into a career; it can get quite confusing.  I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, you know, we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with, maybe. Because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish.  But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home.  And when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it.  I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me.  And soon as I came up, I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew.  They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like: You’re back.  And I’m like: I’m back.  And that was that.  And after that, then I just started diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have.  I’m gonna do everything I can to keep this pure.  Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner, Kitty Yannone, and Marion Higa followed their instincts and listened to their own voices to do it their way. Mahalo to these three women of Hawai‘i for sharing their stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I still get approached by people, total strangers.  You know, I mean, it’s always complimentary.  I know it’s a curiosity.  I mean, I go into restaurants, and I know people recognize me. You can tell when you’re recognized.

 

And so, do they say: What did you really think?

 

Sometimes, people will say that.  But most of the time, people will come up and thank me for the work that we did.  So, I’d like to think that there were some good effects, for some folks, anyway.

 

Things that I have done that were much harder learning experiences than I anticipated. Ronald McDonald House was that way at times, and certainly Board of Regents, and getting involved politically. There are things in my company I don’t have a business background, and I’ve had to learn through trial and error, experience.  I wish I’d known more, but I came out the other side knowing it now, and I don’t regret much of anything.  I think, you know, I’ve had sad things and hard things, and it’s life.  And you know, as long as I keep getting up and experiencing it, I’m kinda happy.

 

I think by following that passion and really making the commitment to be true to my love for it, surprisingly, it did bring success, and just in so much more of a meaningful way.  Because now, it wasn’t just any sponsors that I was working with; it was sponsors and companies like Patagonia who truly hold the same values as me, who aren’t just, you know, trying to sell an image or, do what’s trendy, but really, really believe in trying to make this world better, trying to give back to these beautiful natural elements of our world.

 

 

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
When God Sleeps

 

Explore the journey of Iranian musician Shahin Najafi, forced into hiding after hardline clerics issue a fatwa (Islamic ruling) for his death, incensed by a rap song that focuses on the oppression of women, sexism and human rights abuses.

 

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
I Am Another You

 

Join Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang and Dylan, a young homeless drifter who left a comfortable home and loving family, in this cross-cultural road trip that explores the limits and meaning of freedom.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Minnijean Brown Trickey, Part 2

 

Originally recorded in 2008, this program commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine. In 1957, nine African American students walked through the doors of the all-white Little Rock Central High in Arkansas and stood against an angry mob in a defining moment for the nation’s civil rights movement. Minnijean Brown Trickey was one of those students, now known as the Little Rock Nine. Trickey, a teacher, writer and lecturer whose life work has been to build understanding and promote freedom and equality, shares details of her story that she doesn’t often tell.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Dec. 3, at 4:00 pm.

 

Minnijean Brown Trickey, Part 2 Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no! I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaiʻi. Welcome to another Long Story Short. Last week, Minnijean Brown Trickey shared stories from her days as one of The Little Rock Nine – the teenagers who, in 1957, entered the previously all- White Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas watched by armed soldiers, an angry mob and a worldwide audience. Today, in Part Two of our two-part conversation, Minnijean speaks more.

 

I’d like to start by telling you what happened at the end of my conversation with Minnijean Brown Trickey. When the cameras shut down, our technical crew comprised mostly of college students learning high-definition television production applauded. Then they shook her hand and hugged her. Now, our studio is quite chilly. But at that moment, you could feel the warmth, the aloha. You could see it the students’ faces. And I could see it in Minnijean’s smile. She’s sharing living history, speaking with an unmistakably authentic voice.

 

I know you’ve had occasion to talk with folks who live in Hawaiʻi, even though you don’t live here. What are your thoughts about the racial situation here? You know, people like to say we’re a melting pot, but that’s a little optimistic.

 

Yeah. And I worry about sort of platitudes about a given society. The people here know whether they’re a melting pot or not. It has great possibility. And I worry about melting. I worry about having to melt. I think we should be able to work together with our cultural beliefs and world views and ideas. I think we can still work together. We don’t have to give up everything to be able to work together.

 

And do we want a melting pot? I have a friend who says, We should be a big, chunky stew.

 

Absolutely. And that’s what’s beautiful, and that’s what enriches us, and that’s what gives us other information and possibility. And it’s that precise mixture that enriches us all, in my opinion.

 

Minnijean Brown was one of the African-American teenagers to become known as The Little Rock Nine. In 1957, these students enrolled in Little Rock Central High, the largest school in Arkansas’ state capital. The Governor unlawfully and physically kept them from reporting to class by stationing hundreds of National Guard personnel around the school’s perimeter. The President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent in troops from the U.S. Army to escort the nine students to school. It was a tumultuous time for our nation and for 16 year-old Minnijean.

 

When I’ve seen clips of all of those confrontations at the school over so long a time, over months, of course, I really felt for the nine children, one of whom was you. But as a parent, I found myself thinking of your parents. I mean, it must have been so hard to let you go, and not know whether you were gonna be truly safe.


 

And we weren’t safe. But the bravery—we are given credit for bravery, but the parents were the brave ones because they followed our lead; because they knew that it was important, not just for us, but for the world. After the first day, seeing all the chaos and violence, we all knew this has to be, it must be. There’s no way of explaining that. But we were together on that. But they always said, You don’t have to go. You don’t have to go today, you don’t have to go tomorrow. Are you sure you want to go?

 

Were you always so sure you wanted to go?

 

Well, I kind of framed it in a way; But Ma, I gotta go, because I gotta see what they’re gonna think up to do to me tomorrow. You know, and so I guess we used different ways of dealing with difficult situations.

 

And none of your schoolmates – none of them dropped out either?

 

We couldn’t; it was just way too important. I admire those children; I just am fascinated by them, what they did, how they did it. And I’m trying to recover some of the ways that made it possible to keep going. But it ends up being sort of, They don’t want me here, I’m coming anyway. And maybe that’s how we have to look at things. And sometimes I don’t want to describe us as brave, ‘cause I’m not sure if we were. We were scared every minute. ‘Cause we got death threats at home. At night, my windows were broken in my bedroom. My father lost his job; other parents lost their jobs. So the terror never really stopped. It just became a test of wills. And now that I’m older, I know, my goodness, we were in such danger. And it makes me shake; now. At the time, my defiance was so powerful that it kept me going. Resistance, I call it. And that’s something we all have.

 

Did your family consider stepping back when your father lost his job?

 

Well, it’s too late, because you’ve already done the deed, you’ve already had the audacity to try to go to Central High School, the bastion of White education. You’ve already blown your thing. Everybody’s angry, people are furious, people are paying you back for having that much uppitiness, I guess, is the way it’s been framed over, you know, three hundred years, that if you dare to think yourself a full person.

 

I know there were angry White mobs; I know there were jeers and insults, and worse by your fellow students, White students. Did you get any pushback from other Blacks?

 

I think initially, I think people weren’t sure. Because I think we have to think there’d been small inroads of integration in small towns and in the South, just few and far between. But I think there was a great hope. I mean, there were two school systems; one superior, one inferior. I think any group of people hopes for that change. I mean, we got old books that were so old that so many pages were missing, and they were from forever ago, and they were dog-eared. And I think young Black kids and families saw the possibility that we would, you know have an equal education, that we would have the same opportunity for education that White kids had. So I mean, when they built a new school, but they didn’t equip the science lab. And they built a new school, and it didn’t have this facility, and the—we were the secondhand kids. And I think people thought that this will stop. So I’m not sure if I remember anybody saying—maybe somebody said, You’ve gotta be crazy to do that. And they were right. [chuckle]

 

I think of your parents. And you know, most parents are hopeful their children do well in the academics, and they don’t, you know, they don’t struggle with how tough the classes are, and they get along with their classmates. But your parents were dealing on an entirely quantum different level of concern.

 

Of course. And if yeah; this is, this is a great conversation, because people don’t ask deep questions often. The whole idea that—and I think a lot of the Civil Rights movement worked this way. That the young people were doing things that the grownups couldn’t do, because in fact, they would lose their jobs. And they didn’t put us there; we put ourselves there and asked them to come with us. There’s a line in a freedom song, I’m on My Way to Freedom Land. And one of the lines; If you don’t go, don’t hinder me. And another line is, If my mama don’t go, I’ll go anyhow. It was about seeing a different vision, and hoping that it wouldn’t stay the same.

 

Minnijean Brown was suspended and expelled from Central High. Out of concern for her safety, she was transferred to a school in New York. She graduated from college and lived for many years in Canada. Now she’s back in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she continues her work as an educator and a crusader for civil rights and the environment. The events of 1957 surely shaped the rest of her life.

 

I got punished for the behavior that they were exhibiting. And it was very unfair. And I knew it was unfair, but it wasn’t shown as unfair. It was, She was a bad girl, she talked back. You know, I should have been perfect. Now, I understand that I needn’t have been perfect to go to Central High School, that those were outrageous expectations. But I was just sixteen; so I didn’t know what I know now.

 

And so there was a lot of learning that took place in those months, but much of it probably wasn’t academic.

 

I don’t remember a single thing. I don’t remember learning anything. I spoke French with a really terrible Southern accent, and when I went to this school in New York, this French teacher, I think I hurt her ears when I spoke French.

 

That’s where you went after you left Arkansas?


 

Yes. So I don’t remember learning any lessons.

 

Except hard knocks.

 

Except how, maybe how we survive in a difficult situation. But I was a bad girl, because I asked the history teacher, Why is it we only have one paragraph on slavery in this one-thousand-page American history book? And that we were all happy? You gotta be bad sometime. [chuckle] But that’s considered bad; that’s considered uppity.

 

And you did that at Little Rock?

 

I did.

 

You didn’t get shut down easily by any means.

 

Well, I’d ask it in a very Southern accent, in a very soft way. But I asked it all the same. And I think all of us did that. That we shouldn’t have had to be grateful to go into that brutal situation. And so one more little thing that I think is interesting, and I hope you have space for it. Someone did a doctoral dissertation on the females, gender issues at Little Rock, and talked to a group of White girls, forty years later. And said, We hated that Minnijean, we hated her; we hated her, we hated her. And he said, Why did you hate her? And they finally concluded, Because she walked the halls of Central High like she belonged there. Wow. Wow.

 

There you go. You were the object of much racism. I would wonder if it tended to make you want to dismiss and hate Whites.


 

Well, I guess I didn’t learn. [chuckle] That wasn’t really what I learned at Central. I learned that people can be used for bad purposes, if they allow. I think the mob was incited by the governor, the kids were acting on beliefs that had been part of our American belief system for a very long time.

 

So you’re giving them an out?

 

I’m not giving them an out, but I am what I’m trying to explain, especially to young people that there are structural things that have created our beliefs and our attitudes, and where we live, and how much money we make, and who’s valued and who isn’t; and that the only way that we can dismantle that is to pay attention. So I also know that as soon as I left Central High School, I forgot all about them, and went into the school that was integrated. I had a great time, I realized all those things about myself, which hadn’t been realized in my life before. I was arrested for sitting in, I’ve been in jail, I was in Mississippi for a time, I was really active at my college. It was an amazing, wonderful, hopeful time. And in that process, we have to work with other people, that not any one group can save the world alone. And I work with everybody, and will hang out with everybody, and will interact with everybody; and have had wonderful opportunities to do so. It’s an educational thing that has to take place everywhere. It has to be in the elementary schools, it has to be in high schools. It definitely has to be in the universities, that there is an obligation; we can’t just have like African American history over there, and mainstream history here, which doesn’t, you know—

 

Right; it’s not boutique.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s not boutique history.

 

You don’t get to shop around; it has to be embedded in all our social relations. How do we get here, and how do we get out?

 

Before what happened at the school, did you push the envelope, did you go drink at the other fountain, or slip into a place you weren’t supposed to be?


 

Well, you can’t really go into a place, ‘cause you’re not allowed. But I would, yes, drink out of the White fountain, or I would sometimes sit in the wrong place on the bus, and promptly get kicked off the bus. The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama had happened, but people had been doing that all along, because it seemed so ludicrous. It doesn’t make sense; it didn’t make sense then, it doesn’t make sense now.

 

What kind of kid were you? Were you fiery and an activist, or did that activism happen later?

 

Oh, I was—h-m, I’ve never been asked that question. I was concerned about things, and I argued with my parents during the Eisenhower-Stevenson election. And I told them, How can you vote for Eisenhower; you have to vote for Stevenson. Don’t ask me why.

 


But at that time in your school, would you have been voted most likely to …

 

No, not at all.

 

–to break the bounds and be part of a historical case and—

 

No. Absolutely not.

 

Were you quiet?

 

I was, I was a bookie; I read all the time. I thought I could sing, so I would try to sing every once in a while.

 

[chuckle]

 

But I don’t think anybody, I certainly didn’t anticipate that I would be the person I am now. Inside, I thought deeply about things; but outside, I don’t think I expressed it.

 

You’ve moved back to Arkansas, and you have occasion to drive by Central High School. What are the emotions you feel as you go by?

 

Well, I’m really involved, kind of, with Central High School because my daughter is a park ranger with the National Parks Service and she’s teaching me things. She is at a visitor center, so all kinds of people come in. People come in from all over the world; they tell her and the other rangers how Little Rock, the experience affected them fifty years ago, if they’re older. Young people come in and ask questions.

 

And the school and the government never gave you an apology for what happened?

 

Yes, in 1997—

 

Okay; this is many years—

 

I’m not sure—

 

–after the fact.

 

–if it was an apology. But the governor, who was Mike Huckabee, the President was Bill Clinton, and the mayor opened the door symbolically to allow for us to come in. That was very moving.

 


What do you think it is about you that allowed you to get through that as you did, and continue to fight the same battle in other ways, as you moved along?

 

M-m, well, it’s kind of, what—you know, you asked, why did we go to Central. Somebody had to do it. And we just happened to be the ones who did. And somebody’s gotta do all this other stuff too, individually, and collectively. And it keeps me—I work with lots of young people; it keeps me knowing what their issues are, it keeps me on the ground, not being in some kind of tower, not knowing what young people are concerned about. And it enriches me. It inspires me. It just keeps me going. I working with young people is so inspirational to me. And it also invigorates me, and I’m gonna be—I’m sixty-six. I need some of that energy to circle through me.

 

But the disappointments and the hardship you’ve experience along—and the losses in activism haven’t hardened your heart, haven’t made you have a sense of resignation about anything?

 

Well, I think they’ve given me the right to have a sharp tongue, and to challenge complacency and complicity. And I do that when I can. So I feel, both, I have the privilege of being an elder, as well as a Civil Rights person, to transfer from that time to now. Young people are, What is this about? I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why doesn’t this change? Why are we in this state? Why are we so warlike? Why are we so violent? Why do we have the highest prison rate in the world? They’re still—they’re confused, and I’m confused; and we need to have these talks together, and so I continue to be reinvigorated. Sometimes I do get really cynical; I can do a really good cry in my pillow, I don’t hide my feelings anymore. I don’t feel—if I’m talking and somebody asks me something that takes me back I just go ahead and feel it. So there’s something to maturity.

 

What came first, your activist ideas or the experience at Little Rock?

 

That’s a great question. And I think it’s, I think I found who I was at our first press conference. They asked, Why do you want to go to Central High? And I didn’t say, Because it’s there, which is what a teenager would do. I said, When we are giving our lives in the war and working hard, it’s all right. But when we ask for equalization, we’re turned down. And I discovered that girl about fifteen years ago. And that was really special to me, because that’s who I am. Those are the beliefs I’ve had, I continue to have them. I sound so like me, me, me. But I look upon the Little Rock experience as a training ground for things that were to come in my life.

 

What was harder than that?

 

What was harder than that, I think, is watching my kids have to deal with the same kinds of things that I had to deal with, and that was—that’s been hard. Because the whole idea for desegregation in schools, for dismantling Jim Crow, for various civil rights acts, that the purpose of that, the purpose of going to Central High School was to stop it, change it, make it go away. And to have my own children and people’s children of various ethnicities and world views have these experience, this kind of experience, hurts me. And I’m very sorry that we haven’t done that whole work, we haven’t finished that work.

 

When you say we haven’t finished, how close are we?

 

I don’t know. I tell my kids, Put some rhinestones on my walker.

 

[chuckle]

Wheel me up. Because it looks like that’s my life’s work.

 

Yeah.

 

And it’s good work; it’s …

 

I mean, it’s a bad reason to have job security, racism.

 

Oh; well, It’s not even about, you know, like work. It’s not about a job. It’s just a way of life. It’s what I do.

 

And I hope Minnijean Brown Trickey keeps on doing what she’s doing – sharing her story of principle, passion and perseverance. A warm mahalo to her, with aloha, from her new friends in Hawaiʻi. If you’d like to share your thoughts with Minnijean, please send an email to Long Story Short through our website at www.pbshawaii.org and we’ll forward it . For now, as always, we have to keep this fascinating Long Story Short. Mahalo for joining us. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kākou.

 

I gotta tell you. I’m really surprised that you live in Arkansas; so do many of the people who were at the high school when you were mistreated, and you’ve never really had any kind of outpouring of, Oh you know, those were different times, and we didn’t know better, or that was a poor way to handle it. Nothing like that. Not really; not one-to-one.

 

That’s the nature of the discussion of racism in the nation. We are doing it; we can’t do it. We have a hard time; we’re looking at, we’re watching scenarios where we can’t talk about it. What does that mean? What’s wrong with us? We can talk about everything else.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Minnijean Brown Trickey, Part 1

 

Originally recorded in 2008, this program commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine. In 1957, nine African American students walked through the doors of the all-white Little Rock Central High in Arkansas and stood against an angry mob in a defining moment for the nation’s civil rights movement. Minnijean Brown Trickey was one of those students, now known as the Little Rock Nine. Trickey, a teacher, writer and lecturer whose life work has been to build understanding and promote freedom and equality, shares details of her story that she doesn’t often tell.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 26, at 4:00 pm.

 

Minnijean Brown Trickey Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and welcome to another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. Hard for many younger folks to believe, but within the lifetime of today’s grandparents, many public school districts on the Mainland were racially segregated – whites in this school, blacks in that school. And when the highest court in the land declared in 1954 that public schools could no longer be segregated, some schools simply did not comply. Nine African-American teenagers showed courage and dignity in the face of angry mobs. Which is why the University of Hawai‘i School of Social Work at Manoa invited Minnijean Brown Trickey – of The Little Rock Nine – to share stories with students. And, why we invited her to share stories with us.

 

Minnijean Brown Trickey is a teacher, a writer, a lecturer. And in 1957, she was a high-school junior who wanted a better education than the one offered at the poorly funded, all-black school where she would have gone if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn’t opened the way for public school desegregation. She became one of the Little Rock Nine, nine young African-American students who enrolled in all-white Little Rock Central High in the state capital of Arkansas.

 

I gotta say, I’ve always been fascinated by what happened in 1957, but it’s hard for me to identify with it, because we didn’t have schools like that here, and there was not angry mobs, 250 National Guard people at the door of the school. Can you tell me what your life was like before you tried to enter the school?

 

Well, I guess you didn’t have to undo a situation such as blatant segregation in schools, ‘cause you didn’t have slavery. So I think, yeah, it might be difficult for a part of the country that hasn’t had that experience to really kind of come to grips with it. But basically, imagine a place where a Black person can’t go a to a hotel, or water fountains were labeled, Colored and W hite, restrooms were in different places and labeled Colored and White. Trying on shoes was in the back of the store. We weren’t allowed, or it was frowned upon, trying on clothing in a clothing store. And we sat on the back of the bus. So I mean, I thought, Well, if I can go to school with teenagers who are like me, who are thoughtful, intelligent, creative, some of this stuff will just go away, because it won’t make sense to them, the same as it doesn’t make sense to me. So it’s kind of a whole way of thinking, and a whole way of life that was based on White supremacy and Black inferiority; as simple as that. I didn’t like it.

 

At that young age, you were already real clear on that.

 

I didn’t like the conditions of segregation. They weren’t pleasant. They devalued me. I was at risk for breaking the law, because those facilities were the way they were by law. It was illegal to go to a circus and sit next to a White person, for goodness sakes; or not go to the circus at all. South Pacific; I really wanted to go to that, but I couldn’t go to that auditorium; Blacks could not go to that auditorium. So it’s about getting denied everything that’s kind of fun or that’s exciting, or that you can grow from, or learn from.

 

South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Interestingly, there’s a line in the musical which says, “Racism is not born in you. It happens after you’re born,” and a song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” Today, Minnijean is doing the teaching and telling the story of The Little Rock Nine. In 1954, in a court case known as Brown versus the Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial segregation to be unconstitutional. Yet, schools in the South remained segregated. When nine African-American students enrolled at Little Rock Central High, the Governor defied the law of the land and sent in the Arkansas National Guard to keep out the black teens. President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and he deployed Army troops to escort the students into the school. They were met with physical and verbal abuse, hostility and death threats – not just that day or week, but continuously, for months. Minnijean Brown and eight other students became known as The Little Rock Nine. And their steadfastness changed the lives of every African American.

 

Would you take us back to that day that you reported for your first day at Little Rock Central High School?

 

Well, I’ll go back further than that and say in May of 1957 on the bulletin at the school, they announced, If you live in the central district and you want to go, sign up. And I did. M-m; said, you know, it’s there, it’s in my neighborhood; why not. And two other girls, my best friends signed, and put their name on. And in the summer the school board—we went to meetings, and they said, Well if you come, you can’t talk back; people will probably call you names, but you can’t respond. And you can’t participate in any extracurricular activities; you can only go to school. Do you still want to go? [chuckle] And I think the expectation was we’d say no; and some of us said yes.

 

You were willing to be uncomfortable in school.

 

Right. And my thought was, I’m beautiful, I’ve got a smile to die for, I’m talented, I’m smart; who couldn’t love me. Couple of weeks, it’s over. And I think maybe all of us felt that, How could this be any other way? We can make friends, we will manage this. And then the school board published the names of the people they had chosen in the newspaper, and that’s the night the windows started breaking in my bedroom. And then on Labor Day evening, Governor Orville Faubus did a special television appearance, saying that he was putting units of the Arkansas National Guard around the school to protect the peace. Well, I don’t know the codes; I’m a kid, and my parents didn’t quite get it. And they asked our parents not to come to school. So eight of us met—were assembled there, and walked to right just a half block from the school, and then walked, and were met by the Arkansas National Guard. Now, on the other end of the school, Elizabeth Eckford was a girl who was mobbed. She rode the bus to school. And there are some amazing photos of her being tormented by people. And we walked up to the Guard, and they put their—closed ranks for us, and then opened back up for White kids, and we were pretty bewildered. So we just went home.

 

Bewildered. And the Little Rock Nine were thrust into a pivotal time in the American civil rights movement.

 

I could hear the sound of a crowd; it sounded like a sports event.

 

The mob, meaning adults on the outside of the school?

 

Yes. Yes; as well as some students. It sounded like a football game or something. And we were taken to these two police cars. One group was told to put blankets over their heads; we were told to keep our heads down. It was in the basement of the school, and one of the main policemen said, When you start driving, do not stop for any reason. And so they screeched out of the side of the school. In the meantime, the mob is beating up this report—these three Black reporters who came to do their work, and it’s all on film. And they were going to storm the school.

 

What did it feel like? I mean, did you feel surrounded by hate?

 

I did. I felt let down, because, despite the fact that I lived in a segregated society, I’d done all these pledges that we do, anthems, and actually heard myself say, Freedom and justice for all. And I go to school one day, and it didn’t mean me. And I can’t say—that was how I felt. I felt—my heart was really broken. And one of the other nine talks about having a really sheltered, good life; and suddenly, it becomes this other life. So I think for all of us, it was a similar thing. But even in a segregated society, there’s a level of protection and care. And suddenly, we’re in a—we’re receiving all this hate, which we had no idea existed.

 

What were people saying to you, in this mob?

 

Well, it was more like a roar. I don’t think there was an individual voice. It was more, Go back to Africa, lots of N-words, go home. Yeah; but it was collective roar, I think, that was so frightening. Had it been one person or two people calling names, I don’t think we would have felt so strongly about it. But it was— and I talk about it turning my head to see the mob; a lot of women. And I was really flabbergasted by that. These were women who were apparently trying to protect their own children. White women screaming that I couldn’t go to that school. And so I’m assuming they thought they were protecting their children. But at the same time, they were abusing children in a very brutal and hateful way.

 

The U.S. Army would finally take you to school.

 

Yes. President Eisenhower apparently—I would propose that after seeing the reporter beaten, felt something had to be done. And apparently, you know, it was the Cold War and we were spreading democracy around the world. And I’ve read quite a lot in the Eisenhower Papers, about Eisenhower, and I would propose that it was the Cold War that caused him to send troops to Little Rock. It was you know, federal versus state powers.

 

Well, what was it like when you did gain entrance to school, and you were a student with your fellow schoolmates? You’ve been fighting the roar of the angry adult White mob; what about the kids in the school?

 

Well, the 101st Airborne Division dispersed the mob, which meant that it was a lot quieter. And we were surrounded by soldiers, and had inside the school, each a guard, a personal guard.

 

Did a guard ever say anything to you, saying he understands your position, or he believes in what you’re doing? Anything like that?

 

Well, all the guards were White, and they were young men. My guard was from Kentucky, and should we actually have a conversation, horror or horrors; White man talking to Black girl, oh, my god. So we had to sort of talk very quietly. And what he would do is, somebody would spray oil on the floor for you to slip; he’d say, Move over. People didn’t really attack so brutally with those guys with us. ‘Cause the first few days, they wore fixed bayonets. It’s my understanding their guns were not loaded, but they wore battle dress. So they calmed it down considerably. But inside the classrooms, we had to sit in the back. So you’d have go to—either somebody would try to trip you as you go to your back seat. And then you’d get to your seat, and it would be soiled; it would have thumbtacks, it would have spit, it could have feces, could have glass. I mean, you’re not gonna sit there, but you’re gonna get the message that this chair, which is yours, has been mutilated, and this is where they want you to be. So it wasn’t physical, particularly, but it was really deeply psychological. And people could spit with the guards there. And they could, well, one guard with Melba Pattillo, who wrote this book called Warriors Don’t Cry, which is about her experience, someone threw acid in her face, and her guard quickly took her to the water fountain and splashed it out of her eyes.

 

And there was no punitive action for all of these insults and attempts to hurt?

 

Well, we realized at first, you know, they would say, Well, did anything happen? And then the question would be, Did his teacher see it? So the rule was, if a teacher didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. So we stopped telling; we stopped reporting. We didn’t dare tell our parents, ‘cause they wouldn’t let us go back.

 

Well, your dad didnt know how bad it was, because you weren’t telling him.

 

Well, we couldn’t. Because they would have said, You can’t go. And we were going. So we protected our parents from the horror of it, because we knew we wanted to keep going.

 

And the drive to keep going was to live on the principles that you were trying to believe in.

 

Yes, to force—and I think a lot of the Civil Rights movement that came later, and in part as a result of these beautiful children who stepped out, was to force these United States to act upon what it always said it was. And I guess that’s what our obligation will always be in this society, is to—if you want to use the word force, through nonviolence, a society to live up to its ideals, and those words that it tells us it is, and those words that it told us nine kids that it was. And we knew immediately that it wasn’t true, but we also felt that we were gonna make it true. And that’s an interesting sort of way of looking at it.

 

So that was the condition you were facing in school every day at the time your dad wrote this telegraph to the President?

 

Would you read that?

 

I would.

 

Because I haven’t seen it in a while.

 

Your dad writing to the President of the White House says, We, the parents of nine Negro children enrolled at Little Rock Central High School, want you to know that your action in safeguarding their rights have strengthened our faith in democracy now as never before. And we have an abiding feeling of belonging and purposefulness.

 

Yeah. I think my dad and other dads—well, that was a composite letter to reinforce Eisenhower’s commitment to us. Because I think that the parents, as well as the NAACP, felt that without that protection we would be killed.

 

At the end of the school year, the only 12th grader from the Little Rock Nine, Ernest Green, graduated – an achievement that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the graduation ceremonies. Minnijean Brown was not there. The most articulate and forceful of the Little Rock Nine had been expelled. One day, following longtime taunting by a white female student – she called the girl “white trash.” The school climate became more toxic than ever for her. A group of white male students confronted her in the cafeteria. She dumped a bowl of chili on her antagonists.

 

Don’t ask me what happened. When I got to the vice principal’s office, one of the boys who had the most chili was there. And she said, What happened?   And did you do it on purpose? And I said, It was accidentally on purpose. And he said, She didn’t do anything. Well, they weren’t interested in what he said, particularly.

 

And?

 

I was told to go home, and I was suspended. And I can’t remember for how long; it was near Christmas holiday. So I don’t remember. But when I returned, there was war declared on me. The 101st left in November and the Arkansas National Guard protected us.

 

But the kids were up for war?

 

The kids were ready to pay Minnijean back. And so it was just constant kicks; just things, thrown things. We had, you know, we couldn’t leave our books, because people would pee in our lockers, or they would break them open and rip up our books, and just little stuff that just would drive you crazy. But so they were really out for me, I think. It’s hard to know, because we weren’t telling each other what was happening. But this group of five girls followed me for about two weeks; and my heels were bleeding, because they could walk on your heels, and nobody could see; and they could kick you in assembly. So our legs were all black and blue for the—all of us, for the entire time we were there. And I was starting, really, to get worn down. And my heels were raw. And they’d scab over, and then, and I was hiding it from my mom, because I really didn’t want her to know. And they followed me all the way up to my homeroom, calling me names, and laughing at my clothes, and snickering, and as I’m walking in the homeroom, somebody threw a purse. And I picked it up, opened it, and it had six locks, combination locks in it. Stupid me did not keep it for evidence. And I just dropped it to the floor and said, Leave me alone, white trash. Well, guess what? The teacher heard me.

 

But hadn’t noticed these other things?

 

Did not notice the purse, did not see the five girls, did not—and I went down the girls’ vice principal, and she sent me home, and they said I was gonna be expelled, and we appealed it, and did all kinds of things. Now, I have to add to that; in 1984, when Elizabeth Huckabee, no relation to Mike Huckabee, was writing her memoir; and a movie was to be made. And she wanted my character; she wanted me to sign a release. And I said, I won’t sign a release, because I don’t like the way you’ve portrayed me. You know I’ve suffered for being maligned for using those two words. And she says, Well, Minnijean, we expelled you because you were gonna be killed. And I said, Yeah; so I’ve spent all these years feeling guilty. You’ve never told me, you never told my parents. And I’ve been disgraced for my whole life for being expelled from Central. But that’s kind of off the record, and I’m the only person who kind of knows that.

 

And it wasn’t just one bold move, one brave day; it was months and months, and days and many, many moments and fears and anxieties and danger.

 

Yeah; it was. And I understand it much better now. And I’m still working on figuring it out.   And I guess it’s a good thing, because the work I do is about—I’m so compassionate, well, but with a sharp tongue. It is about how we all work in this society, how we must come together in some basic way. I didn’t choose it. It just came to me, to be this person, to believe this way, to work among and with all people in the interest of, you know—well, should we say freedom, or should we say democracy; all those big words.

 

But should we work together somehow to live in harmony?

 

To this day, Minnijean regrets that race-related comment as a teen, about white trash, and explains she just got worn down by the relentless abuse she was dealing with as a teenager. Her place in American history remains intact. When she walked through the doors of Central High, she stepped into a defining moment for the civil rights movement. Her life’s work has been to build understanding and to promote freedom and equality. 

 

Did you have occasion to talk with one of the White children who was trying to humiliate you? Did you ever have a talk later down the line with any of them?

 

I did, actually. Two years ago, I got to talk to the person who was the boy who got the most of the chili, in the chili incident where I dropped my tray and it splattered. These guys were pushing, slamming against me.

 

They were slamming against you in the cafeteria?

 

In the cafeteria, and I just dropped the whole thing. He said he wished he had been the kind of person who spoke up, but he was just trying to go to school. And he also said he didn’t get suspended; they told him to go home and change his clothes.

 

Minnijean Brown Trickey shared stories from her days as one of The Little Rock Nine – the teenagers who, in 1957, entered the previously all- White Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas watched by armed soldiers, an angry mob and a worldwide audience.

 

Id like to start by telling you what happened at the end of my conversation with Minnijean Brown Trickey. When the cameras shut down, our technical crew comprised mostly of college students learning high-definition television production applauded. Then they shook her hand and hugged her. Now, our studio is quite chilly. But at that moment, you could feel the warmth, the aloha. You could see it the students’ faces. And I could see it in Minnijean’s smile. She’s sharing living history, speaking with an unmistakably authentic voice.

 

I know you’ve had occasion to talk with folks who live in Hawai‘i, even though you don’t live here. What are your thoughts about the racial situation here? You know, people like to say we’re a melting pot, but that’s a little optimistic.

 

Yeah. And I worry about sort of platitudes about a given society. The people here know whether they’re a melting pot or not. It has great possibility. And I worry about melting. I worry about having to melt. I think we should be able to work together with our cultural beliefs and world views and ideas. I think we can still work together. We don’t have to give up everything to be able to work together.

 

And do we want a melting pot? I have a friend who says, We should be a big, chunky stew.

 

Absolutely. And that’s what’s beautiful, and that’s what enriches us, and that’s what gives us other information and possibility. And it’s that precise mixture that enriches us all, in my opinion.

 

Minnijean Brown was one of the African-American teenagers to become known as The Little Rock Nine. In 1957, these students enrolled in Little Rock Central High, the largest school in Arkansas’ state capital. The Governor unlawfully and physically kept them from reporting to class by stationing hundreds of National Guard personnel around the school’s perimeter. The President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent in troops from the U.S. Army to escort the nine students to school. It was a tumultuous time for our nation and for 16 year-old Minnijean.

 

When I’ve seen clips of all of those confrontations at the school over so long a time, over months, of course, I really felt for the nine children, one of whom was you. But as a parent, I found myself thinking of your parents. I mean, it must have been so hard to let you go, and not know whether you were gonna be truly safe.

 

And we weren’t safe. But the bravery—we are given credit for bravery, but the parents were the brave ones because they followed our lead; because they knew that it was important, not just for us, but for the world. After the first day, seeing all the chaos and violence, we all knew this has to be, it must be. There’s no way of explaining that. But we were together on that. But they always said, You don’t have to go. You don’t have to go today, you don’t have to go tomorrow. Are you sure you want to go?

 

Were you always so sure you wanted to go?

 

Well, I kind of framed it in a way; But Ma, I gotta go, because I gotta see what they’re gonna think up to do to me tomorrow. You know, and so I guess we used different ways of dealing with difficult situations.

 

And none of your schoolmates – none of them dropped out either?

 

We couldn’t; it was just way too important. I admire those children; I just am fascinated by them, what they did, how they did it. And I’m trying to recover some of the ways that made it possible to keep going. But it ends up being sort of, They don’t want me here, I’m coming anyway. And maybe that’s how we have to look at things. And sometimes I don’t want to describe us as brave, ‘cause I’m not sure if we were. We were scared every minute. ‘Cause we got death threats at home. At night, my windows were broken in my bedroom. My father lost his job; other parents lost their jobs. So the terror never really stopped. It just became a test of wills. And now that I’m older, I know, my goodness, we were in such danger. And it makes me shake; now. At the time, my defiance was so powerful that it kept me going. Resistance, I call it. And that’s something we all have.

 

Did your family consider stepping back when your father lost his job?

 

Well, it’s too late, because you’ve already done the deed, you’ve already had the audacity to try to go to Central High School, the bastion of White education. You’ve already blown your thing. Everybody’s angry, people are furious, people are paying you back for having that much uppitiness, I guess, is the way it’s been framed over, you know, three hundred years, that if you dare to think yourself a full person.

 

I know there were angry White mobs; I know there were jeers and insults, and worse by your fellow students, White students. Did you get any pushback from other Blacks?

 

I think initially, I think people weren’t sure. Because I think we have to think there’d been small inroads of integration in small towns and in the South, just few and far between. But I think there was a great hope. I mean, there were two school systems; one superior, one inferior. I think any group of people hopes for that change. I mean, we got old books that were so old that so many pages were missing, and they were from forever ago, and they were dog-eared. And I think young Black kids and families saw the possibility that we would, you know have an equal education, that we would have the same opportunity for education that White kids had. So I mean, when they built a new school, but they didn’t equip the science lab. And they built a new school, and it didn’t have this facility, and the—we were the secondhand kids. And I think people thought that this will stop. So I’m not sure if I remember anybody saying—maybe somebody said, You’ve gotta be crazy to do that. And they were right. [chuckle]

 

I think of your parents. And you know, most parents are hopeful their children do well in the academics, and they don’t, you know, they don’t struggle with how tough the classes are, and they get along with their classmates. But your parents were dealing on an entirely quantum different level of concern.

 

Of course. And if yeah; this is, this is a great conversation, because people don’t ask deep questions often. The whole idea that—and I think a lot of the Civil Rights movement worked this way. That the young people were doing things that the grownups couldn’t do, because in fact, they would lose their jobs. And they didn’t put us there; we put ourselves there and asked them to come with us. There’s a line in a freedom song, I’m on My Way to Freedom Land. And one of the lines; If you don’t go, don’t hinder me. And another line is, If my mama don’t go, I’ll go anyhow. It was about seeing a different vision, and hoping that it wouldn’t stay the same.

 

Minnijean Brown was suspended and expelled from Central High. Out of concern for her safety, she was transferred to a school in New York. She graduated from college and lived for many years in Canada. Now she’s back in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she continues her work as an educator and a crusader for civil rights and the environment. The events of 1957 surely shaped the rest of her life.

 

I got punished for the behavior that they were exhibiting. And it was very unfair. And I knew it was unfair, but it wasn’t shown as unfair. It was, She was a bad girl, she talked back. You know, I should have been perfect. Now, I understand that I needn’t have been perfect to go to Central High School, that those were outrageous expectations. But I was just sixteen; so I didn’t know what I know now.

 

And so there was a lot of learning that took place in those months, but much of it probably wasn’t academic.

 

I don’t remember a single thing. I don’t remember learning anything. I spoke French with a really terrible Southern accent, and when I went to this school in New York, this French teacher, I think I hurt her ears when I spoke French.

 

Thats where you went after you left Arkansas?

 

Yes. So I don’t remember learning any lessons.

 

Except hard knocks.

 

Except how, maybe how we survive in a difficult situation. But I was a bad girl, because I asked the history teacher, Why is it we only have one paragraph on slavery in this one-thousand-page American history book? And that we were all happy? You gotta be bad sometime. [chuckle] But that’s considered bad; that’s considered uppity.

 

And you did that at Little Rock?

 

I did.

 

You didnt get shut down easily by any means.

 

Well, I’d ask it in a very Southern accent, in a very soft way. But I asked it all the same. And I think all of us did that. That we shouldn’t have had to be grateful to go into that brutal situation. And so one more little thing that I think is interesting, and I hope you have space for it. Someone did a doctoral dissertation on the females, gender issues at Little Rock, and talked to a group of White girls, forty years later. And said, We hated that Minnijean, we hated her; we hated her, we hated her. And he said, Why did you hate her? And they finally concluded, Because she walked the halls of Central High like she belonged there. Wow. Wow.

 

There you go. You were the object of much racism. I would wonder if it tended to make you want to dismiss and hate Whites.

 

Well, I guess I didn’t learn. [chuckle] That wasn’t really what I learned at Central. I learned that people can be used for bad purposes, if they allow. I think the mob was incited by the governor, the kids were acting on beliefs that had been part of our American belief system for a very long time.

 

So you’re giving them an out?

 

I’m not giving them an out, but I am what I’m trying to explain, especially to young people that there are structural things that have created our beliefs and our attitudes, and where we live, and how much money we make, and who’s valued and who isn’t; and that the only way that we can dismantle that is to pay attention. So I also know that as soon as I left Central High School, I forgot all about them, and went into the school that was integrated. I had a great time, I realized all those things about myself, which hadn’t been realized in my life before. I was arrested for sitting in, I’ve been in jail, I was in Mississippi for a time, I was really active at my college. It was an amazing, wonderful, hopeful time. And in that process, we have to work with other people, that not any one group can save the world alone. And I work with everybody, and will hang out with everybody, and will interact with everybody; and have had wonderful opportunities to do so. It’s an educational thing that has to take place everywhere. It has to be in the elementary schools, it has to be in high schools. It definitely has to be in the universities, that there is an obligation; we can’t just have like African American history over there, and mainstream history here, which doesn’t, you know—

 

Right; its not boutique.

 

Yeah.

 

Its not boutique history.

 

You don’t get to shop around; it has to be embedded in all our social relations. How do we get here, and how do we get out?

 

Before what happened at the school, did you push the envelope, did you go drink at the other fountain, or slip into a place you weren’t supposed to be?

 

Well, you can’t really go into a place, ‘cause you’re not allowed. But I would, yes, drink out of the White fountain, or I would sometimes sit in the wrong place on the bus, and promptly get kicked off the bus. The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama had happened, but people had been doing that all along, because it seemed so ludicrous. It doesn’t make sense; it didn’t make sense then, it doesn’t make sense now.

 

What kind of kid were you? Were you fiery and an activist, or did that activism happen later?

 

Oh, I was—h-m, I’ve never been asked that question. I was concerned about things, and I argued with my parents during the Eisenhower-Stevenson election. And I told them, How can you vote for Eisenhower; you have to vote for Stevenson. Don’t ask me why.

 

But at that time in your school, would you have been voted most likely to …

 

No, not at all.

 

to break the bounds and be part of a historical case and—

 

No. Absolutely not.

 

Were you quiet?

 

I was, I was a bookie; I read all the time. I thought I could sing, so I would try to sing every once in a while.

 

[chuckle]

 

But I don’t think anybody, I certainly didn’t anticipate that I would be the person I am now. Inside, I thought deeply about things; but outside, I don’t think I expressed it.

 

Youve moved back to Arkansas, and you have occasion to drive by Central High School.   What are the emotions you feel as you go by?

 

Well, I’m really involved, kind of, with Central High School because my daughter is a park ranger with the National Parks Service and she’s teaching me things. She is at a visitor center, so all kinds of people come in. People come in from all over the world; they tell her and the other rangers how Little Rock, the experience affected them fifty years ago, if they’re older. Young people come in and ask questions.

 

And the school and the government never gave you an apology for what happened?

 

Yes, in 1997—

 

Okay; this is many years—

 

I’m not sure—

 

 

-after the fact.

 

–if it was an apology. But the governor, who was Mike Huckabee, the President was Bill Clinton, and the mayor opened the door symbolically to allow for us to come in. That was very moving.

 

What do you think it is about you that allowed you to get through that as you did, and continue to fight the same battle in other ways, as you moved along?

 

M-m, well, it’s kind of, what—you know, you asked, why did we go to Central. Somebody had to do it. And we just happened to be the ones who did. And somebody’s gotta do all this other stuff too, individually, and collectively. And it keeps me—I work with lots of young people; it keeps me knowing what their issues are, it keeps me on the ground, not being in some kind of tower, not knowing what young people are concerned about. And it enriches me. It inspires me. It just keeps me going. I working with young people is so inspirational to me. And it also invigorates me, and I’m gonna be—I’m sixty-six. I need some of that energy

to circle through me.

 

But the disappointments and the hardship you’ve experience along—and the losses in activism haven’t hardened your heart, haven’t made you have a sense of resignation about anything?

 

Well, I think they’ve given me the right to have a sharp tongue, and to challenge complacency and complicity. And I do that when I can. So I feel, both, I have the privilege of being an elder, as well as a Civil Rights person, to transfer from that time to now. Young people are, What is this about? I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why doesn’t this change? Why are we in this state? Why are we so warlike? Why are we so violent? Why do we have the highest prison rate in the world? They’re still—they’re confused, and I’m confused; and we need to have these talks together, and so I continue to be reinvigorated. Sometimes I do get really cynical; I can do a really good cry in my pillow, I don’t hide my feelings anymore. I don’t feel—if I’m talking and somebody asks me something that takes me back I just go ahead and feel it. So there’s something to maturity.

 

What came first, your activist ideas or the experience at Little Rock?

 

That’s a great question. And I think it’s, I think I found who I was at our first press conference. They asked, Why do you want to go to Central High? And I didn’t say, Because it’s there, which is what a teenager would do. I said, When we are giving our lives in the war and working hard, it’s all right. But when we ask for equalization, we’re turned down. And I discovered that girl about fifteen years ago. And that was really special to me, because that’s who I am. Those are the beliefs I’ve had, I continue to have them. I sound so like me, me, me. But I look upon the Little Rock experience as a training ground for things that were to come

in my life.

 

What was harder than that?

 

What was harder than that, I think, is watching my kids have to deal with the same kinds of things that I had to deal with, and that was—that’s been hard. Because the whole idea for desegregation in schools, for dismantling Jim Crow, for various civil rights acts, that the purpose of that, the purpose of going to Central High School was to stop it, change it, make it go away. And to have my own children and people’s children of various ethnicities and world views have these experience, this kind of experience, hurts me. And I’m very sorry that we haven’t done that whole work, we haven’t finished that work.

 

When you say we haven’t finished, how close are we?

 

I don’t know. I tell my kids, Put some rhinestones on my walker.

 

[chuckle]

 

Wheel me up. Because it looks like that’s my life’s work.

 

Yeah.

 

And it’s good work; it’s …

 

I mean, it’s a bad reason to have job security, racism.

 

Oh; well, It’s not even about, you know, like work. It’s not about a job. It’s just a way of life. It’s what I do.

 

And I hope Minnijean Brown Trickey keeps on doing what she’s doing – sharing her story of principle, passion and perseverance. A warm mahalo to her, with aloha, from her new friends in Hawai‘i. If you’d like to share your thoughts with Minnijean, please send an email to Long Story Short through our website at www.pbshawaii.org and we’ll forward it . For now, as always, we have to keep this fascinating Long Story Short. Mahalo for joining us. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

I gotta tell you. I’m really surprised that you live in Arkansas; so do many of the people who were at the high school when you were mistreated, and you’ve never really had any kind of outpouring of, Oh you know, those were different times, and we didn’t know better, or that was a poor way to handle it. Nothing like that. Not really; not one-to-one.

 

That’s the nature of the discussion of racism in the nation. We are doing it; we can’t do it. We have a hard time; we’re looking at, we’re watching scenarios where we can’t talk about it. What does that mean? What’s wrong with us? We can talk about everything else.

 

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