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One of the most life transforming moments on our Civil Rights tour was getting off of the bus in Little Rock, Arkansas and staring at the monstrous Little Rock Central High School.  Admittedly, I knew nothing about the role that Little Rock played in the Civil Rights Movement before reading John A. Kirk’s Redefining the Color Line: Black Activism in Little Rock Arkansas, 1940-1970 for this class.  And, to be honest, the title and book cover did not give me warm fuzzies about how exciting this read would be.  I grabbed the book and settled down to what I thought would be a boring monologue of facts and statistics and was instead instantly enthralled by this compelling story.  In 1957, just three years after Brown vs. Board of Education, schools in Little Rock began the process of desegregation, starting with Central High.  Nine African-American students were chosen to integrate that first year, however, everyone seemed against them, including the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus.  Gov. Faubus even had the nerve to defy President Eisenhower and call in the National Guard to bar the students from attending Central High.  The first day they were to attend they were greeted by an angry mob that forced them to return home.  For weeks they struggled to attend school, always being forced away.  Finally, President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to ensure the students safety and allow them to attend school.  It was a compelling story with many twists and turns that caused a range of emotions to swell inside me as I relived their story fifty-five years later.

However nothing prepared me for what I would experience that rainy Thursday morning as we stepped off the bus in front of Central High.  Central High was built in 1927 as an all white high school for Little Rock.  Originally $1.5 million was designated to build two separate high schools in Little Rock, one for whites and one for blacks.  However, the entire amount of money was speLittle Rock Central Highnt on Central High, leaving the African-American community to raise private funds to build a new school.  Central High, still to this day, is an amazing structure, one of the largest high schools in the country .  The High School is five stories high and covers an entire city block.  The front entrance is three stories high with a mountain of steps to climb and the front doors overlook a massive reflecting pond that sits in front of the building.  The building could house up to 2000 students and only nine of them were going to be African-American.  The corridors stretch and turn in endless directions leaving many places for bullies to strike against unexpecting people.  Everything about this school screamed to these African-American Students (the Little Rock Nine as they came to be called) that they don’t belong.  Yet on September 25, 1957, while being guarded by members of the United States Army, the Little Rock Nine slowly walked the long journey from the edge of the street, up the massive stairs, and into history.  They were desegregating public schools and paving the way for many others who would follow in their footsteps.

As I stood there on that rainy morning staring up at the school and then as I took the same exact route the students took in 1957 to enter the school for the very first time I couldn’t help but think, how did they do it?  How did nine teenage students have the courage to stare down angry mobs and endure relentless abuse from fellow students to try to do what was right?  How did these nine students have the courage to rise above and pave the way for many who would follow after?  How did these nine students endure abuse and contempt day after day and not fight back, and not sink to the same lowly standards?  How did they do it?

And then I’m reminded that if they can do it, I can do it.  If they can stand up to injustice then I can stand up to injustice.  If they can have the courage to stand up to evil and counter it with good, then I should too.  These nine students are some of my heroes.  They were willing to do what was right and endure shame to make life better for others.  As followers of Jesus may we have the same courage.  May we be willing to suffer abuse and scorn to do what is right instead of hiding in fear afraid of retaliation from others.  May we have the strength to march for justice so that all people, even those not like us, will be treated with dignity and honor.  May we be willing to be like Jesus and love others more than ourselves.  If we can do that, we will be witnesses of the coming Kingdom and bring honor and glory to God.

Editors Note:  This is part of a series of reflections that I have had since going on a tour of civil rights sights during February of 2013.  This is partially my way of processing what I am learning and also a place to enter into dialogue about ways for us as Christians to engage the future.