Interview with Ernest Green
Interview with Ernest Green


Production Team: D

Interview Date: August 26, 1979

Camera Rolls: 3-6, 9
Sound Rolls: 2-4

Interview gathered as part of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965).
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Ernest Green, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on August 26, 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.

INTERVIEW
FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

SOUND ROLL 2, CAMERA ROLL 3-4

Ernest Green:

Ernest Green, uh, Little Rock, Arkansas.

QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

AND MAYBE I CAN GET YOU TO KIND OF JUST BRIEFLY…

Ernest Green:

Talk a little bit about that? Oh, alright. Uh… Yeah, the uh… it was in August, early August I was working for a uh… as a locker-room attendant at a country club. It was white. In fact it was a Jewish country club. It was in the South. Uh, Jews were not allowed to join the other country clubs so, uh… there were a number of them with enough money to go ahead and form their own. So I had this job, it was in the locker-room that summer as a towel attendant. And uh, we got called down to the school board office, one evening. Uh, I was informed that afternoon that I was one of the students selected. I didn't know who the other students were. I didn't know how large the number was. And, uh, for the first time when I got down there and met the other eight students. Now, four of them I knew. We grew up, lived in the same neighborhood. Uh, same church, uh… uh, went to junior high school and the earlier grades at the same time. But the next morning the newspapers ran the names of the, of the nine, nine of us who were going to Central. And I'll never forget I went back to work the next day. Uh, this young guy, he was about my age, his folks were members of the club, he came up to me and said, "How could you do it?" I said, "What do you mean, how could I do it?" He said, "You seem like such a nice fellow." And uh, you know, "Why is it you want to go, go to Central. Why do you want to destroy our relationship?" And, uh, first time it begin to hit me that uh, that uh going there was not going to be as simple as I had thought the first time when I signed up. I was still committed to go but it made me know at that time that it… it was going to mean a lot to a lot of people in that city. Uh, particularly, uh… particularly to white folks. And from then on, uh…uh…events started to cascade. Uh, we had a uh…

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

GOING TO FOUR, CAMERA ROLL FOUR, SOUND ROLL TWO

QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

LET'S GO BACK TO THAT, THAT SUMMER. AND UH, DID YOU EXPECT… WAS THERE TROUBLE EXPECTED EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE APPREHENSIVE?

Ernest Green:

Well I wasn't—any trouble expected. I think given, given the fact that uh… uh there had been other schools in Arkansas That had, that had been integrated. Fort Smith, Arkansas and some others, the buses in Little Rock had been desegregated without any problems. The library and the uh… university the medical and uh and the uh law school had admitted some blacks. So it was an expectation that there would be problems minimally, uh, nothing of a major cause celebre that would put Little Rock on the map uh, as it occurred. And only, the first inclination we had of it, that I had of it, maybe some other folks and may—maybe Daisy and some others were aware of it, but uh, the night before we were, we were to go to school, as the Labor Day, Monday night schools traditionally started in Little Rock the Tuesday after Labor Day. Uh, Faubus came on T.V. and indicated that he was calling out the National Guard to prevent our entrance into Central because of uh, what he thought were threats to our lives. He was doing it for our own protection [laughter]. Even at that time that was his uh, that was his line. And uh, that the troops would be out in front of the school and they would bar our entrance. Uh, to uh, to Central. For our protection as well as for the protection and tranquility of the, of the city. So only that Monday night that I know that I wasn't going to be able to go to school the next morning. Now, that night also uh… uh, Daisy called us all up and told us that we were going to go to school as a group uh, and to arrange to meet at her house and there were a number of ministers uh, that uh, I was not aware of but and had been involved in trying to lay a groundwork to have uh… this, the integration of the schools reasonably accepted. Uh…by the people in the, in the city. So that morning, eight of us gathered at uh, Daisy's house, Elizabeth wasn't there. And uh, we went by car to Central, to the corner of 14th Street and Park. Uh… it was about eight o'clock that morning. And we made an attempt to go though the troops and uh, were denied uh, access to the front of the school. And uh, we went home after that. Elizabeth had missed the call uh, she didn't have a phone I think. And that morning she was at the other end, two blocks down 16th, where there was nobody, no supporters at least, none of the ministers, none of the people that uh, had helped us uh, uh, provide transportation up to the school and that she was down there facing the mob by herself. None of us knew that until we got home uh, after school. So that was the first day uh, at Central. And then we were out of school for three weeks after that. While the litigation between the uh, the state and the federal government and finally uh, it was the day after my birthday, I think it was the 23rd of September, uh we went to school after they finally withdrew the National Guard. This is before the troops came. And uh, we stayed in school only a half a day, because again we were unaware that there was a mob outside the school and that was about to break through the uh, police barriers. So, about noon that way we uh, went home again uh, and looked at the footage uh, on uh, on T.V. It looked a lot more frightening watching it on T.V. than uh, what we were experiencing inside the school. Uh, we stayed out a day and a half after that. And then the morning after, Eisenhower sent a thousand paratroopers to Little Rock and the next morning we went to school with the assistance of the 101st Airborne Division.

QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE SIXTEEN YEARS OLD AND BE SURROUNDDED BY UH, MILITARY HARDWARE?

Ernest Green:

That was more military hardware than I'd ever seen. Uh, went to school in an army station wagon, and I… I think if anything stays on my mind as long as I live, this does. That, there was the uh, the Colonel in charge of, of the detail escorting us to school, was, was from South Carolina, he told us that. And he had a very think Southern accent. And uh, he went to great pains to assure Mrs. Bates and the other parents that were there that he was there to provide protection. And that seemed, what I knew about, about Southerners, uh, so, uh, incongruous that this guy with this deep Southern accent was going to provide us with our protection, but when we got into the jeep, uh, into the station wagon rather, and the convoy that went from Mrs. Bates house to the school it had a, a jeep in front a jeep behind, they both had machine gun mounts,** uh, there were soldiers with rifles, uh… and then** when we got to the front of the school, the whole school was ringed with, with paratroopers and helicopters hovering around and we** walked, marched up the steps**, and walked up the steps with this uh, circle of uh, soldiers with bayonets drawn. I figured that we had really uh… we had really gone into school that day** without any problems and uh… I guess, given the problems we had getting in there, walking up the steps that day was probably one of the biggest feelings I've ever had. I figured I had finally cracked it.**

QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

CUT FOR A SECOND.

Ernest Green:

Labor Day, the removal of the National Guard. I mean… barring us going in, the removal of the Guards then I going back in… uh… only about four or five events in there.

QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

FATHERS PULSICKER, AFTER UH…

Ernest Green:

After uh the local police were trying to theoretically prevent the mob from coming through and then after that then Eisenhower calls in the uh, the army.

QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

AND ONCE THE ARMY IS THERE, FOR HOW LONG? FOR THE REST OF THE…

Ernest Green:

The army is really there for the rest of the, uh, school year, they uh… they are on, on campus in the school for about three months just before Christmas. They pull out of uh providing protection for us, personal protection for us, right around Christmas. Then when we come back in January, there are no longer the paratroopers in the school. Uh, but uh, they stayed in the city throughout all of their school term. In fact when I graduated that, uh, that May, they were on duty at the uh, at the stadium.

QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

THE GRADUATION WAS AT THE STADIUM?

Ernest Green:

Yeah. The, uh, morning that we went to uh, went to school, uh Daisy had uh, called us all up to meet at her house. And, uh, eight of us showed up. Elizabeth wasn't there. We got to school, we were at one end of the school, 14th Street and Elizabeth was at the other end, 16th Street. Neither group knowing where the other was. Because it's a big place. Two blocks separating it. And uh, we just made a cursory kind of attempt to, to enter school that morning. Elizabeth uh, attempted to go through the guards and had the mobs behind her. Uh… it was only with the help of uh, this woman, her husband was on the faculty of Black College there, Filanda Smith, who escorted her to the bus, and finally saw her home, did Elizabeth really get out of any uh, physical danger, of the mob really uh, doing physical harm to her. And none of us knew that until we got uh… home that afternoon and were uh… we met at Daisy's house, Elizabeth there, she was in tears. The rest of us had uh… had not experienced anything like that.

QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT DID TO HER? I MEAN STANDING THERE?

Ernest Green:

Well, it has to be the most frightening thing… I mean because, uh, she had a crowd of** uh… a hundred, two hundred white people behind her. Uh … threatening to uh, to kill her. She had nobody, I mean there was not a black face in sight anywhere. Uh, nobody that she could turn to as a friend except to this woman came out of the crowd and uh, guided her through the mob and onto the bus and got her home safely.**

QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

AT THE UH, BEING IN THE SCHOOL THAT DAY [unintelligible].

Ernest Green:

Well when we finally got in the school, uh, I do remember that the uh, a number of students, uh, jumped out of the windows, the segregationists. That they refused to uh… attend school with us and uh, we were guided to our homeroom and our, our, our classes. Uh, and I was in the Physics class. And a monitor came up from the principal's office, and told me that I was to go to the principal's office. When we got down there the other eight students were there. And at that time we were told by the principal that uh, uh, we would have to be sent home for our own safety. That the uh, police were having difficult holding the guards, uh, holding the mob back at the barricades. And that if they broke through, they could not be responsibly for our safety. They didn't have enough protection. So we were whisked out of a side door. And uh… went home. And I didn't have any idea how big the mob—mob was outside the school until again, until after, after we got home. It was almost like being in the eye of a hurricane. You never uh, saw all the turmoil around you. Inside it seemed quiet, the school was quiet the students were friendly. The teachers seemed helpful. And uh, we were ready to, after three weeks ready to go ahead and uh… with our class work. And uh, catch up with the work that we were behind on.

QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

THE STUDENTS UH… MOST OF THEM SEEMED FRIENDLY?

Ernest Green:

Well, at that time they were. Because what had happened, those who were the most devout segregationists had either left, or were not in classroom with us, so that those students who were there, either those who were neutral or were actively, wanted to be actively friendly. Now as time wore on, when the troops finally came and we started going to school full-time, the uh, the segregationists started to pressure those students who attempted to be friendly to us. Uh, so for the most part over that year, we were isolated. There were a couple of incidents along the way in which students attempted to be friendly. But most of them were fearful of uh, either how their peers saw ‘em, and bein' a nigger-lover in 1957 was uh, enough to make white folks cringe so that uh, those who empathized and show, out, outward sympathy, uh, towards black students were uh, overtly uh ostra—ostracized.

QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

DO YOU REMEMBER ANY PARTICULAR INCIDENTS DURING THAT TIME? ANY THREATS?

Ernest Green:

Well, yeah. I remember a number of them, uh, we used to go, they used to ramshackle our lockers, uh, periodically. I'm sure the school board must have spent thousands of dollars just replacing our books. Uh, the uh other thing was that one night we used to well we used to get a lot of phone calls. And uh one night uh a voice said that uh, one of the girls would be uh… shot in the face with uh, acid out of a water pistol. And . That's alright.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

CHANGING TO SOUND ROLL THREE, CAMERA ROLL FIVE. 27, AUGUST, EXCUSE ME, 26th AUGUST, CAP CITIES, BLACKSIDE, SOUND ROLL THREE, CAMERA ROLL FIVE

Ernest Green:

The uh, I guess the, the students uh, were always, we were always getting calls in the middle of the night. And this one time there was a, a call that said uh, one of the girls would be squirted in the face with uh, acid in a water pistol. And uh, that uh, we'd better watch out. So that next morning, walking through the halls, and this was after the, uh, our individual guards before uh, we had individual paratroopers that escorted us from class to class in the hallway. And halfway through the school year they withdrew those, outside of the school and only had the guards stationed uh, outside. Anyway, sure enough, I was walking with Melba Patillo and this kid walks up with a water pistol and squirts her in the face and it turns out it had water. But it was that level of harassment. One of the other things I remember always was in gym… uh, you get into the locker room and the locker room gets steamed up. Uh, there was always incidents of these guys wetting up towels and throwing ‘em over where, where we were. Well we got to be a little cagey about that. We would start dressing in one place, move to another so they were always throwing towels over… some other area. It was a low level uh, of harassment and I guess we sort of uh, put away any idea that we were in immediate physical harm, that anybody was going to kill us. That didn't seem likely. Maybe it was just because uh… we were too young and we believed in what we did, or what we were doin'. But never feared uh, anything uh, physically happening to us.

QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

DID ANYONE BREAK [unintelligible]?

Ernest Green:

Well the incident that uh, that uh… helped us out was with Minnie. Every time we went to lunch uh, we were always hassled and heckled by a number of uh, of white kids. And we were standing in the lunch line, Minnie, myself, two others I think. And this, Minnie is about five foot ten. And she was tall at that time. And uh, in high school. And there was this white kid. He couldn't have been more than five foot four, five foot five and he was behind Minnie, he was gon nigger [?] her to death. Uh, and she had just gotten a bowl of chili from the cafeteria and, and without even blinking an eye, Minnie turned around and took that chili and dumped it on this dude's head. [laughter] He standing there the last "nigger" coming out of his mouth with chili rolling off his face and, uh, with that, the school board suspended Minnie. Uh and part of it, you know, which was the attitude at that time that somehow we were supposed to be so stoic that we weren't to retaliate to any of this. And finally uh, after the suspension they uh, moved to remove her from school, and Minnie went to school in New York, finished up the uh, other uh semester, outside of Little Rock.

QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

JUST TELL ME AGAIN THAT WHEN SHE TURNED AND TURNED—PUT THE CHILI ON HIS HEAD WHAT, WHAT HAPPENED?

Ernest Green:

Silence. I mean at the other thing was all the kitchen help in the uh, cafeteria was black. And they were working along the line. And some of them we had known, because they either went to churches or lived in the same neighborhood that many of us did. And they broke into applause [laughter]. The rest of the, the white students there was just absolute silence. Nobody knew what to do, I'm sure it's the first time a white kid had seen somebody black, uh, physically retaliate against somebody white, but Minnie took this chili and just dumped it on this dude's head and all he could do was just close his mouth as it dripped off his face.

QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

NOW, I, I WONDER IF MAYBE WE SHOULD DO IT AGAIN. WHAT I'M NOT SURE WOULD BE CLEAR IS "NIGGER AND MURDER DEATH"_

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

SAME BREAK, LAST TAKE.

Ernest Green:

We were uh, at lunch that day and uh, for a couple of weeks uh, there had been a number of white kids following us. Uh, a series of uh, of uh, hassles, uh, continuous calling us "niggers," "nigger, nigger, nigger," one right after the other. And uh, Minnie was, Minnie Jean Brown was in the lunch line with me. And there was this—I was in front of Minnie, Minnie was behind me and there was this white kid, fellow who was much shorter than Minnie. Minnie was about five foot ten. And uh, this fellow couldn't have been more than five five, five four. And he reminded me of a small dog yelping at somebody's leg. Uh and uh Minnie had just picked up her chili,** out of this line. The help in the whole cafeteria was black, all black. And before I, I could even say … you know, "Minnie, why don't you tell ‘em to shut up?" Minnie had taken this chili, dumped it on this dude's head. It was just absolute silence in the place. And then the help, all black, broke into applause. And the white kids, the other white kids there didn't know what to do. I mean it was the first time that anybody, I'm sure had seen somebody black retaliate in that sense.** And it was uh, again, a good feeling to see that happen. Uh… and to be able to, to let them know that uh, we were capable of taking care of ourselves.

QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

GRADUATION.

Ernest Green:

Yeah, I had been there nine months and uh had thought that all I needed to do was to graduate. Uh, just get out of there. Uh, and that uh, it would be impossible for white people to say that nobody black had ever graduated from Central High School. So the graduation was in May, uh, I was having difficulty with one course, it was a Physics course. And almost up to the last minute didn't know whether I was going to complete it s—uh, successfully so that I would be able to uh, uh to get out of there. But uh, as things were I got a fairly decent grade out of it. And uh, at the graduation ceremony, uh, one of the guests was uh, Martin Luther King. He was speaking in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, uh, A. M. and N. at the black college there. And uh, came up to sit with my mother, Mrs. Bates, and a couple of other friends uh, in the audience. And all I could think of, there were six hundred and some odd students graduating that night, it was in the stadium, the place was packed, cameras, lights, uh, to record this event, and I said now, I can't walk across this stage and stumble [laughter]. And uh, all I figured that I had to do was to get up to the principal, take that diploma and walk off the other end and it would be over. I would have done, done my, my duty and uh, uh, been able to have a, a relaxing summer. Because it really wasn't, certainly wasn't the way to go to, to go to school under that, that kind of pressure.

QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

WHEN YOU WERE WALKING ACROSS THE STAGE DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE WALKING FOR MORE THAN JUST YOU OR WAS IT JUST…

Ernest Green:

Well, I knew I was walking for the other eight students that were the eight of us there, and I, I figured that I was making a statement and helping black peoples' existence in Little Rock. Now beyond that, we'd never had much of a focus on what the nation, or what the world impact was of uh, of Little Rock, only after we left, uh, after I left high school and started to run into a lot of people. But I did know I was making a statement for more than just myself. That it was, uh, going to be more than just my own personal education and, uh, what I thought we were doing was uh, removing a series of barriers for black people to uh, be able to have free mobility in Little Rock and uh, free access to, to other options.

QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

WAS IT WORTH THE SACRIFICE?

Ernest Green:

Oh sure. I think there is no question that the, the nine of us uh, thought that the sacrifice we were doing was worth it and if having to do it over again, I would do it the same way I did it the last time.

QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

WHO WERE THE REAL HEROES AND HEROINES OF, OF LITTLE ROCK?

Ernest Green:

Well, I think the biggest heroes and heroines are the parents, uh, because they had more to give up than any of us, any, any of the kids. They had for most of us, our parents owned the homes, or were near owning homes, uh, had jobs, were teachers or were janitors, but they had full paying jobs. I mean, they went to work regularly. They were able to eat and feed a family. And uh, I really think uh, given the way that uh middle-class blacks and a lot of other southern communities refused to really get involved in the movement, that the real heroes and heroines in Little Rock were the parents. They were the ones behind the scenes, who had to deal with the pressures, who had to watch their children go off into an unknown and not know whether they would come back, uh, in one piece. And to me that's uh, that's one hell of a sacrifice.

QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

HOW ABOUT WHITES WHO PLAYED A ROLE?

Ernest Green:

I think in uh, in Little Rock the whites who played a role, the, there was one person that stands out, he was a vice principal in the high school. And was one of the ones that kept information flowing between uh, uh, Mrs. Bates uh, and ourselves. Uh, there were a number of ministers who were very active uh in trying to keep dialogue open, but uh, there were not many white voices in Little Rock. Uh, there were a number of them who were, I'm sure playing roles behind the scenes. But of anybody outspoken, out in front, I didn't know ‘em.

QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

EARL [?] ORVAL FAUBUS.

Ernest Green:

Well Orville Faubus, I always said that we made Faubus famous. If it hadn't been for us, he'd just been another obscure Southern governor. Uh, I have, I guess I—the difficulty I have with Faubus that the time that he was elected, most black people thought he was the best of choices of, of the uh, of the candidates, the Democratic candidates running. And he had always had a fair amount of black support. So that when he became the ardent uh, segregationist, it was a surprise and a shock. And uh, I gather what Faubus knew he was doing was assuring his re-election by seizing this issue and lining up behind the, the uh, the, uh segregationist forces. Uh, that assured him of some six terms. And uh, now, everything I see, Faubus has recanted, all of his previous involvement with, uh, the segregationist thrust and said he was doing it only to protect us, but it was obvious he knew that uh, he had hit a chord that would get him reelected continually.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

RUN OUT. UM, THIRTY SECONDS. CAMERA ROLL SIX. SPEED.

Ernest Green:

OK.

QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL. DOES IT MEAN SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR?

Ernest Green:

Well the symbolism of Central, when you see it, it's an imposive—an impressive structure. Very imposing. It takes up two city blocks. It was in 1957, uh, the top high school in that area, not just in Little Rock, but uh, in that whole mid South area. And uh, to have successfully gone through there, uh, meant that you had cracked one more barrier that had uh, been barred to black people. Uh, in the city of Little Rock. And what I saw and I think, speaking for the other eight students, that it was always important for our own education, we thought we were getting the very best that public funds had available, uh, uh in Little Rock. But uh, halfway through the school year we knew we were doing something for everybody in the town, everybody black in the town. And that the longer we stayed there and if we successfully completed there it would be difficult, impossible for anybody to say that uh, uh, black people couldn't uh, compete in that environment and two, that uh, one more all white institution uh, broken down.

QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

YOU TOLD ME AT ONE POINT THAT CHRISTMAS BREAK WAS A TIME IN WHICH YOU REALLY THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO MAKE IT.

Ernest Green:

Well Christmas, uh, the uh, uh, December break, Christmas break fell halfway between the two semesters. And my feeling was that, uh, one, having put up with the uh, problems of the harassment and the telephone calls and, uh, all of the uh, all of the hostility as well as being able to handle the academic work, if we made it through those three months then I figured we'd made it through the next uh, four months. And that uh, Christmas break was kind of like a uh, it was kind of like a race, and the Christmas was a way station, you know, an oasis where you could rest a little bit, one was you got a chance to see uh, a lot of your friends. And the other thing that was helpful was you got a lot of support coming up from various people in the—in the community. I mean people would stop you that you didn't know uh, and tell you how proud they were of what, what we were doing. And that uh, gave us a renewed impetus to uh, to carry on.

QUESTION 23
INTERVIEWER:

GRADUATION.

Ernest Green:

Graduation was the end of May. Uh, interesting thing about graduation, uh I was being the only senior I'd given up all the graduation activity that had gone on in the black high school, you know the, the school play and the, the prom and all of those kinds of things. And uh, sometimes because of not having that activity, uh, thought that uh, I would really feel isolated you know, because I wasn't going to Central High School's prom and I wasn't going to be invited to be in the school play at Central, I mean I was already, uh, in enough play form. Uh, but uh, all of the black students at Horace Mann which was the school that I would have graduated from, invited me to all the activities, included me in all of it, uh, really made me feel a super part of it. So that I had the best of both worlds. I had cracked this white institution, and still had all of my friends who were uh, super-supportive of what I was trying to do so, uh, that graduation and going through the ceremony and, and one the participants in the ceremony was uh, Martin Luther King who was speaking at the black college uh, a couple of days before. Uh, I figured all I had to do was walk across that big huge stage which, which looked the length of that football field, I'm sure it was very small. But anyway that night before I had to walk up and receive my diploma, uh, it looked very imposing. It looked long and uh, I kept telling myself I just can't trip [laughter]. With all these cameras watching me. Uh, but I knew it, once I got… as far as that principal and received that diploma, that I had uh… I had cracked the wall. And uh, interesting thing, there were a lot of claps for the students, you know, they talked about who had received scholarships, uh, who was an honor student and all that as they called the names off. When they called my name there was nothing, just the name and there was this eerie silence. Nobody clapped [laughter]. But uh, I figured they didn't have to ‘cause after I got that diploma that was it. I had accomplished what I had come there for.**

QUESTION 24
INTERVIEWER:

JUST JUMPING BACK JUST FOR A SECOND ERNIE TO THE UH… ARMY, AND WHEN YOU… WHEN THE ARMY DECIDED TO TAKE YOU IN, WITH THE SOUTH CAROLINA COLONEL. UH, WHAT DID THAT MEAN, GOING TO SCHOOL THAT WAY, INTO CENTRAL?

Ernest Green:

OK. The uh, the day that we went to school with the army uh, we met at Mrs. Bates' house again, and that was uh, the person in charge of the detail was a colonel from South Carolina, very thick southern accent. And I'd never—I'd never seen anybody with an accent that thick who was gon [?] be providing protection for us, a protection for me that just seemed sort of uh, incongruous that a white southerner was going to be the person to uh, oversee uh, our protection. And I was a little dubious about it when we were in the house—going through my head—"This, this dude really ain't gon to be looking our for me too tough." But once we got into the station wagon and I saw all the other paraphernalia, we had a jeep in front of us with three or four troopers and a machine gun mount on it, we had another jeep uh, behind us with a machine gun mount, and soldiers with rifles, and as we sped up to the front of the school with helicopters flying around. And this whole school is ringed with soldiers with bayonets drawn and we get out of the station wagon, and they encircle us with uh, must have been at lease fifteen or sixteen soldiers, and walked us up to the front of the school, I thought that this… Colonel from South Carolina couldn't be all bad. I mean he, uh, he knew what he was doing and he uh… he stuck with it so, we went to school with about as much force as you could go to school with. Uh, with all the army in fact when we got in the school, they then assigned us an individual soldier to walk us from class to class. He waited outside the classroom, and every time the bell rang and classes changed he would walk us—we'd have our own personal guard walking us to the next class.**

QUESTION 25
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT SIGHT OF YOU GOING UP THE STEPS MEANT TO THE WHITE, TO THE WHITE SOUTH?

Ernest Green:

Well, I was too busy just trying to get into school that day, and I don't think uh… it, it's only uh, in a reflective process do I see how imposive uh, uh, impressive and imposing that uh, that picture of us being marched up the steps uh, with the army must have meant to white southerners cause this was the first time that the Federal Government had used that much force to uh, uh, reinforce the '54 decision. And I think for the first time, it must have dawned on them that uh, this was a decision that they would just gon have to get in tune with.

QUESTION 26
INTERVIEWER:

DID YOU EVER THINK THEN THAT YOU WERE GOING TO BE WORKING FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AT SOME POINT?

Ernest Green:

No, didn't think that nor being an Assistant Secretary. Uh, I did think though that uh, whatever that I was going to do uh, that going to Central High School was not gonna to be the apex of my life. I mean I, I, if, if one, and I think this was true of all of us who went to school there that we didn't regard Central High School as the key point in our lives or in our career that we only saw it as a, as a stepping stone. So I expected—my expectations were to continue to play some sort of role uh, in the movement that is, and trying to make life—improve life for black people in this country. And that Central was only a beginning uh, to be involved in that.

QUESTION 27
INTERVIEWER:

OK, UH, CUT, JUST FOR A SECOND. UM, I GUESS THE QUESTION IS WHAT, WHAT LITTLE ROCK MEANT. UH, I'VE ASKED IT BEFORE, BUT UH…

Ernest Green:

Well what it what it meant, meant to me, I grew up there, was born there, uh, third generation living there. Little Rock Central represented symbolically all that white segregation meant in that town, and, and, and my reinforcement, or awareness of Little Rock being a segregated town goes back first time I was—can remember shopping with my mother, and this white kid and I were playing, and, and all of a sudden like a bit sky hook his mother snatches him, and he just disappears. And I couldn't figure out why. Uh, and uh, only after some years, it was just the fact that I was black, and he was white and we couldn't play together in the store. And Little Rock Central High School represented all of that, all of the worst of the South, and its, and its uh, lily white status. And uh, going there and successfully attending it and graduating from Little Rock Central meant that we had eliminated one more lily white institution uh, in Little Rock. Uh, I thought that uh, symbolically it would mean something to other black people in the city. I didn't have any awareness what it meant to people outside of Little Rock but that uh, if we could do that, the nine of us, uh, teenagers then there were a series of other things that older people, leadership could take on to complete the job. And that I saw this as a beginning of uh, of uh, starting change in, in Little Rock.

QUESTION 28
INTERVIEWER:

DID YOU EVER, YOU EVER GET OTHER PEOPLE COMING UP TO YOU, I KNOW YOU SAID DURING THE TIME YOU GOT BLACK PEOPLE COMING UP TO YOU, DID YOU EVER GET WHITE PEOPLE COMING UP TO YOU?

Ernest Green:

Yeah, now it's an interesting thing. I get people who have either lived in the South particularly whites, middle-aged whites, uh, and talk about what watching that on TV meant to them. And it's obvious it had a real impact in turning their attitudes or some of ‘em uh, towards uh, uh, the uh, segregationist uh, uh, platform that most southern politicians were putting forward that they started to reconsider. I also had uh—have had any number of uh incidences where soldiers, white soldiers who were protecting us were there and the impact—-the impression that being there as part of the police force had on their, uh, on their heads, uh, and I think in retrospect it, it's obvious that the film footage and the TV coverage of Little Rock uh, gave it a far wider impact than any of us who were the participants uh, uh, were uh, were aware of.

QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

GREAT. OK.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

THIS IS ROOM TONE, GREEN.