Little Rock Central High School desegregation duo subject of new book

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After more than fifty years, many say the famous 1957 photograph of two young girls — one white and one black — at Little Rock Central High School continues to not only reflect racism in America at that time, but it also highlights racial issues still present within society today.

The image (seen above) that depicted such a terrible situation between these two girls was the foundation of the book called Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, written by veteran journalist David Margolick.

“I think that I’ve just always been interested in minority groups and the struggle for fairness,” Margolick told theGrio. “I think it grows out of my own background of Jewish. There is something very inspiring about people fighting for their rights even as discouraging as the situations can be sometimes.”

Elizabeth Eckford — who is black— and Hazel Bryan Massery — who is white — are the two 16-year-old girls captured in the September 1957 photo taken in front of the Little Rock Central High School. The timeless photograph shows Eckford, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of the high school as Massery stands directly behind her screaming racial slurs.

It was this photograph that stayed within the mind of Margolick from a very early age: “I never thought about writing a book about it, but it was always apart of conscious from a very young age — who can say when,” he told theGrio. “Everybody knows this picture and everybody recognizes it.”

In 1999, Margolick said he came across the photograph at the Little Rock Central High School Museum after going to Arkansas to cover a story.

“As soon as you walk into the museum, you see the picture,” he said. “This is not surprising since the picture encapsulates American racism. It’s all there in that picture. ”

To him, Margolick affirmed that Massery’s face displayed the story of white intolerance and hatred, while Eckford’s face displayed a story of black dignity, courage, and fear.

As Margolick completed his tour at the museum, he became surprised by a poster showcased in the museum gift shop that showed the two together as adults. The image prompted him to investigate how the unforgettable picture of Eckford and Massery came to be taken, and its impact on the women’s lives and the world.

“It was a picture of them together much older and sort of joking with one another,” he told theGrio. “I was amazed to see it. You don’t think of them as growing up and evolving. You also certainly don’t think of them as making up. I felt that from the first picture to second picture there was a story there. I wanted to know how they got from one story to another.”

Margolick told theGrio he was determined to find out the story behind their unlikely friendship. He then started researching and quickly found out that they both were not only still around town, but they had become friends in 1997.

He then quickly arranged a meeting with them. “Soon I saw myself in the presence of these two iconic faces as we had barbecue in a diner, and it was bizarre,” he told theGrio.

Margolick said he initially wanted to meet and interview them for an article he was writing on their friendship. He thought it would be interesting to share with society.

However, after meeting with them, he decided to write a book instead. He realized that an article would not sufficiently capture their relationship, which appeared to shockingly be deteriorating before his eyes.

“Since they had made up two years later, by the time I got around to meeting them, they were already sort of getting on one another’s nerves for a variety of reasons,” he told theGrio. “It mostly focused on the fact that Elizabeth thought that Hazel was not being full candid about who she was, why she was there that day in 1957, and who her family was.”

Apparently, the tension built up so much that Margolick said shortly after the meeting they stopped talking to one another.

To this day, Eckford and Massery still haven’t spoken in ten years.
“Their story is more complicated than people think,” he told theGrio. “I do think that they love each other…Elizabeth recognizes that Hazel helped bring her out of her shell. There is a very deep bond between them, but they are very proud people.”

In fact, Margolick said that Eckford has always been quite weary of Hazel’s intentions.

“Elizabeth is a stickler and she has standards, especially since she was given a life of great difficulty,” he told theGrio. “Personal issues within her family, and the experience that the picture captured that day has caused her great trauma.”

According to Margolick, it was these other experiences that caused Eckford to become very weary of people, especially Massery. She thought that Massery was not being honest, and she resented her for not apologizing right after the incident happened in 1957.

Yet Massery has not just gotten grief from Eckford. According to Margolick, throughout her life she has also received extensive criticism from many within her community.

“Hazel is polite, but she often felt resentful, unappreciated, and disrespected,” he told theGrio. “Hazel was getting grief from everybody. Elizabeth resented her and the other people in the Little Rock 9 resented her. She came forward and apologized very publicly only to find that everybody seemed to resent her. They thought she was a publicity seeker.”

Many of members of the community were frustrated and didn’t understand why she waited so long to apologize in public to Eckford after all of these years. Yet what many don’t know is that she actually had apologized to Eckford in 1962 when they were both twenty-years-old, according to Margolick.

“Hazel had two kids and she didn’t want her little boys to grow thinking that this girl with the face twisted in hatred was their mother, and that this was all there was to their mother,” he said. “Therefore, she tried to make things right and apologize, and she did a privately and she never told anybody.”

Margolick said that this episode is just one of the numerous surprises in the book.

“I mean it was a black girl and white girl in 1962 talking over the phone,” he said. “Although it was very short conversation in which she apologized, white people resented Hazel for apologizing. They just wanted her to go away, and instead of going away. So she was upsetting everyone.”

Margolick further noted that the way people treated Massery really caused her great hertache within her life. For a long time she was highly disliked by the black community for hurling racial slurs at Eckford, and she was also chastised by the white community for apologizing to Eckford.

“It is a picture that has frozen in time the very words that she said to Elizabeth,” he said. “When I would talk to Hazel, she would sometimes start crying when she talked about the picture. She said she often feels so ashamed of herself for bringing shame to herself, her family, and her country.”

Years later, Margolick eventually completed his book.

He arranged for it to be released on Eckford’s birthday as a tribute to her: “She is an amazing woman…one of the most amazing women that I have ever met in my career. She is intelligent, courageous, and dignified.”

After the book came out, Margolick said Eckford wrote a letter to Massery apologizing for how she treated her. The apology stemmed from reading the book, which gives great details on their relationship.

“The book is about both of them,” Margolick said. “Yet there is more about Elizabeth in the story than Hazel, because Elizabeth is the person around who this story evolves. She is the focus of attention, and she was the focus of attention the morning the picture was taken.”

Despite all of the traumatic experiences that stemmed from the picture taken that September day in 1957, Eckford told Margolick that she is happy that the picture does exists. The national attention it received gave her the opportunity to have a platform to speak out against racial issues.

Massery has also told Margolick that she is happy that the picture exists.

“I find their story very inspirational,” Margolick told theGrio. “I think that we all need to be elevated by the examples of other people, so I find myself inspired and renewed by this story. I feel like we all need constantly to be remained of the nobility in people. It keeps us and saves us and gives us a reason to live.”

Within time, Margolick asserted that he hopes the two women will reconcile their differences.

Interestingly, from writing the book, he perceives that their bitterness and misunderstanding are illustrations of the tension between blacks and whites today.

“When I am writing a book about this and the subject, it’s like you are forced to ask yourself: What would I have done in the same situation? Even as a white person, what would I would have done in 1957? It is very humbling, because most of us can’t answer that question, we can only ask it. ”