Living history comes to Skyline

In a moving speech on the evening of May 12, one of the country’s most famous civil rights personalities shared her experiences with Skyline staff and students. The event, held in the main theater, featured a speech by Melba Beals, one of the “Little Rock Nine,” the first group of black students to enroll in the Arkansas capital’s Central High School. It was a watershed moment in the history of civil rights.The event was hosted in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case “Brown v. Board of Education,” decided on May 17, 1954. In that decision, the justices ruled that, in the name of fairness and equality, all-white schools were to be desegregated, allowing black students to enroll in the same schools. The decision was one of the events that sparked the fire of the American civil rights movement.”The passing of ‘Brown’ was heaven to me,” Beals said in her speech. “‘Brown’…was a gift.”Beals went on to recount her experiences of attending Central High School. She, her family, and her friends were the targets of numerous hate crimes. For protection for the nine black students, the 101stst Airborne Division was brought in to act as bodyguards.Beals, however, chose to see the situation in a positive light. She referred to her years in high school as a sort of adventure, albeit a “hellish adventure.”But, Beals did confirm that the efforts of the Little Rock Nine were not in vain. She was emphatic in pointing out that those who look pessimistically at the progress of civil rights in America should be more positive.”I don’t know about you, but I ain’t in the back of the bus no more,” Beals said matter-of-factly.She did concede that implementing the provisions of “Brown v. Board” to the fullest extent may never happen.”Have we utilized [‘Brown’] to its fullest?” Beals asked the audience, then went on to answer her question, “No, we haven’t. It’s a key. Have we used it to unlock all our doors? No, we haven’t.”Beals remarked that, although the decision of “Brown” may not be finalized, it would take more effort on the part of those who care to see more equality in education in the United States.”Every single one of you has something to contribute…. This is a privilege,” she said, referring to equal opportunity in education. “Take advantage of your privilege.”What are you going to do about ‘Brown’? How are you going to change tomorrow morning? Who are you going to look at differently?”Beals also took the time to answer questions from members of the audience. She fielded questions about many educational and racial issues. Her answer to a question about the Bush administration policy of No Child Left Behind received the loudest applause of the night.”Unless we get out of Iraq, every child is going to be left behind,” she said in response.Beals seemed very pleased to be speaking to an enthusiastic group of college students. For about an hour after speaking, she took the time to sign books and talk to hundreds of admirers who stood in line to meet her.”Students are in an open-minded process of learning, so they’re ready to process and synthesize,” she said after the book-signing. “They’re alive, they’re learning, they drink it in, they want to talk, and they ask the best questions.”Associated Students of Skyline College President Tanya Johnson was also happy to have Beals speak at Skyline. The ASSC was one of the organizations funding the event.”Having someone that important is a really special event,” she said. “We wanted to help with it, and we are proud to support her.”