Production Team: A
Interview Date: October 29, 1985
Camera Rolls: 121-122
Sound Rolls: 1109
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Marcia Webb Lecke, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 29, 1985, 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.
Sound Roll 1109 Camera Roll 120-123
SECOND INTERVIEW, MARCIA LECKE. WE ARE STILL ON ROLL 120, THE SAME ROLL THAT ALL THE WILD SOUND AND PHOTOS WAS DONE ON, UH, UH, PREVIOUSLY. OK, THIS IS THE SECOND INTERVIEW WITH MARCIA WEBB LECKE. CAMERA ROLL 120.
THE FIRST QUESTION IS AN EASY ONE. WHAT DID YOU THINK IN THAT SUMMER OF 1957 WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD THAT THE BLACK KIDS WERE GOING TO BE GOING TO YOUR HIGH SCHOOL?
The summer of '57, I'm not sure that was when I first learned about the nine blacks entering Central. I think the bigger questions that we seniors were thinking about was, we chose to go to Central, instead of the new school, Hall, and the things that entered our mind in making the choice of going to Central rather than Hall, had nothing to do with integration of Central. It had more to do with uh, Central having an excellent faculty, marvelous football team, a lot of tradition, school spirit, and a lot of the seniors, we had our choice, and we chose to stay at Central. And so it was almost as though something were happening in terms of integration, but it was no big, no big deal that caused any consternation on any of us, on any of our parts, sorry, [laughter] cut.
WHAT DID YOU EXPECT WHEN THAT SCHOOL YEAR OPENED? WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
Well, I don't think we thought about what was going to happen when school started, in terms of integration. We had been practicing cheerleading, and looking forward to the school, and then when the announcement uh, came, it was almost as though, oh no, what is Faubus doing to ruin our year? So it didn't seem like we thought in terms of integration being at all a factor. It was Faubus, and what he was doing. And uh, I think from that point on, we just did what principal and our teachers asked us to do in trying to make it as normal a year as possible.
I THINK YOU SAID TO US SOMETHING ABOUT BEING CHILDREN OF THE 50S, NOT SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS. I WONDER IF YOU COULD TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT.
You know, sometimes when we look back, we give a different perspective to the way things were than maybe they really were. When we watch Happy Days, and some of us don't recognize Happy Days as being part of our lives, and yet, maybe, maybe it was rather accurate. We children of the fifties didn't have causes, like the young people of the sixties did. And we di— didn't question the authorities as much, so that if they told us to do certain things, and we did what we were supposed to do. I know I have a sister, who, who grew up in the sixties, and she was one who was involved in every causes, marched on Washington, wrote letters, and did all sorts of things in an activist way. And I think interestingly enough, my, my son who just graduated from college was a little concerned that during his college years, that young people his age didn't have a cause. And he was a little concerned that some of their misplaced values. And I think it's interesting that on the college campuses, just today, that South Africa is becoming a cause for some of the young people. And I think they're hungry for one. I wish we had recognized ours.
NOW, LET'S GO BACK TO THAT TIME. CAN YOU REMEMBER WHAT IT FELT LIKE, TO SEE THE NATIONAL GUARD RINGING YOUR HIGH SCHOOL, STANDING AROUND IN FRONT OF IT?
The only time that I saw the National Guard ringing our high school was on the evening news. And I didn't watch the evening news a great deal. Because we would uh, carpool to school, and park the car in a side lot, and then go in a side door. And we would go to our homerooms and then we would have five minutes between classes. And Central's such a big place, we would go to our next class. We were asked not to go to the front of the building. And most of us did what we were told to do. So um, the soldiers who were there, you would see them in the hall. You would see them at cheerleader practice, or gym, or football games, but they never bothered us, and we thought they were there, first, because Faubus was causing problems, and then, I think, most of us were glad, when then uh, the resolution came, with President Eisenhower taking charge. I saw, once again, the authority as stepping in and doing what's supposed to be done.
AND THE BLACK KIDS—WHEN THE BLACK KIDS CAME IN, DID YOU SEE MUCH OF THEM?
No. I didn't s- I didn't see, oh, sorry.
TAKE YOUR TIME.
"Incorporate the question in your answer." [laughter] Um, we did not know at school was was happening each day. If bulletins were sent around then they did not tell very much about what was going on, and if they said anything, we were not to discuss it. So if you didn't have any classes with any of the nine, one really didn't know if they were in the building or not, in those first few weeks of school. And, uh, the school is so large, that I seldom saw any of the nine. Occasionally I would see Ernie Green, when I would go into his trig class, because of a ball game that would be scheduled in the afternoon, and uh, he is the only one of the Little Rock Nine who was a senior, and in my class, and the only one that I knew by name.
NOW, DO YOU REMEMBER THE CHILI INCIDENT WITH MINNIJEAN BROWN? WERE YOU THERE FOR THAT? HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT IT? DID YOU SEE IT?
I did not see the chili incident with Minnijean. I, that was one of the incidents that one didn't hear about. When I read Miss Huckaby's book, and I read about so many of …
LET ME STOP YOU ON THAT. WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE LOOKING FOR… JEFF, STOP FOR A MOMENT. I'M SORRY …
Ask the question, wait a minute.
COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT ANY INCIDENTS THAT YOU HEARD ABOUT, IN BETWEEN BLACK STUDENTS AND WHITE STUDENTS?
The only incident that I recall hearing about at Central that year was the chili incident with Minnie Jean Brown. I didn't see the incident, um, I didn't know the people who were involved in it, personally, but I knew some of them by reputation. And, you know, I don't know if my memory is accurate, but I think that I would recall that one provoked, and it was probably a very natural response, that one had had enough. And so I don't recall thinking that Minnijean was as much out of line as what I had heard had provoked her to it.
YOU, YOU NEVER SAW ANYTHING ELSE HAPPEN IN THE HALL?
I didn't see any other incident at school the whole year.
UM, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SEE THE TROOPS IN THE HALL THAT YEAR? IT'S SORT OF A, A FUNNY THOUGHT TO, TO US TO THINK ABOUT GUARDS IN A HALL IN HIGH SCHOOL.
Having troops in the hall does sound like it would be somewhat intimidating, or cause fear, or provoke some kind of negative thoughts. But seeing the troops at, at Central, um, other than those first few days, and being irritated with Faubus, I think it was somewhat accepted, that they had a reason to be there, and I, I pretty much ignored them. Because one had a place to get to, and, and then we would hear rumors, though, about what some of the troops were doing. And since I never saw it, then I would always say, well, that's not true. You know about being in the girls' restroom, or something like that. So, so my thought—I wasn't finished—so my thought at the time was that …
THAT WAS A ROLLOUT ON THE CAMERA, SO WE'RE GOING TO CAMERA ROLL 121.
Oh the, oh, ok.
I'M GOING TO ASK, YOU KNOW, THERE WERE RUMORS ABOUT THE TROOPS BEING IN THE WAY, OR WALKING INTO THE GIRLS' BATHROOMS. THERE WERE RUMORS ABOUT THE TROOPS, BEING IN THE WAY OR WALKING INTO THE GIRLS' BATHROOMS. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THEM?
There were a lot of—excuse me—there were a lot of rumors at school that year, and some of them that I would hear would be like, there were troops who would be in the girls' restroom, and to me, that just was another example of how the whole incident of Central had been sensationalized by the press, and they had seized upon even rumors, and had turned them into fact. So, I, I regretted that.
YOU, YOU DIDN'T HEAR ANY RUMORS ABOUT, I MEAN, IT WASN'T YOUR CLASS, BUT THE JUNIOR CLASS GIRLS, THE, THE, THE BLACK GIRLS WOULD GET HARASSED, SAY IN GYM CLASS OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT. DID YOU EVER HEAR OF THAT?
I didn't have any classes with any juniors that year, or most of my classes were senior classes, and I didn't have any classes with the Little Rock Nine. And there was not much discussion of the integration, and so one, since one wasn't taught—since we weren't—maybe we should start over.
JUST GO RIGHT ON. GO ON.
We didn't talk much about uh, what was actually going on. I don't know if that was because the administration had asked us, as a group, not to discuss it, so we didn't really uh, have a lot of curiosity, perhaps, about what was going on. We weren't looking for negative incidents, and thus, maybe, we didn't ask questions, we didn't know, we didn't hear.
COULD YOU, COULD YOU TELL US HOW WELL YOU THOUGHT THE TEACHERS AND THE ADMINISTRATION DID? PERHAPS YOU COULD RELATE YOUR ANSWER TO THAT YEARBOOK OF YOURS, THE WAY IT REFLECTED A KIND OF THE DETERMINATION TO HAVE A NORMAL YEAR. YOU CAN PICK UP THE NOTE—-THE, THE BOOK TOO IF YOU LIKE.
You know, as I look back on, on the senior year, and you have so many pleasant memories. I have so many pleasant memories about the year. And you think, someone really did their job, in terms of administrators and teachers. Um, they had asked us to do what we were supposed to do, in terms of going to our class, studying, and I think most of us did that. And when you think of um, the leadership that they showed, and particularly keeping the problems, and there were problems, now I know that there were, but yet when they didn't pass them on to the young people, I think it shows that they really felt a responsibility to all of the student body at Central, to uh, make the year a meaningful one, where education uh, was taking place, and um, today as a teacher, I can appreciate the responsibility that they had. And, uh, as a student, back then, now I thank them, for all that they had to go through, uh, to give us as normal a year as possible.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE YEARBOOK, ABOUT HOW THERE'S ONLY TWO PAGES OF PICTURES OF …
I think when one looks at the 1958 yearbook, and there's only um, four pages of pictures, about the year, and there's not a single picture which suggests anything that's sensational, or negative, or uh, there's not a picture of a mob. There's not a picture of um, anything you see in history books, or uh, newspapers, the ones that were in the newspapers at the time. And there is a letter from the principal, who had a son in the class, and I think that reflects, also, the attitude of the administration, that um, we need to accentuate the positive, about the year, because there were so many good things about the class of '58. And I think the yearbook shows that that's what they wanted to be remembered. Of course, as a history teacher, I think it's so ironic, that that's how they want it to be remembered, and then how it is in the history books today, and I've brought it up to the present again, and you didn't want me to do that. Oh well. You want me to …
I WOULDN'T MIND IF YOU'D TELL—-NO, NO. I DON'T WANT YOU TO DO THAT, BUT IF YOU WOULDN'T MIND PICKING IT UP AND AS YOU TELL US IT, JUST OPEN TO THE PAGE AND, AND LOOK AT IT. YOU KNOW JUST START IT, LET'S START FROM BRINGING IT DOWN AND THEN JUST PICK IT UP AND LOOK AT IT. YOU DON'T HAVE TO SHOW IT TO ME.
Don't, well, that's what I, I can't figure out …
WE FIX IT, DON'T WORRY.
You fix it.
WE'LL FIX IT.
Ok, um, you know, in looking through the yearbook, it's sort of fun to read some of the letters, and they …
I'M GOING TO STOP FOR A MOMENT AND HELP YOU ON THIS ‘CAUSE YOU HOW WELL DO YOU THINK THE TEACHERS AND THE ADMINISTRATORS DID IN THAT YEAR, IN MAKING IT A NORMAL YEAR?
I think they did a superb job. When you have that many students, and you have the responsibility for that many students, and you try to make it as normal a year as possible, when you look at the yearbook for that year, and you recall, uh, how the yearbook remembers the year, there are only four pictures which are devoted to the Little Rock Central crisis. And the pictures that are in the yearbook are ones which certainly aren't sensationalized, they're the ones that look like the troops are just standing around, the students are doing what they're supposed to do. Um, it shows the troops sleeping, back from the fair, uh footsore and weary and far from home. There is nothing to suggest that, uh we were making history at the time. And I think that the yearbook shows what the administration was encouraging, that we make it a normal year, and accentuate the positive. We had an outstanding class, football team, and, uh, and having as normal a year as possible, and the yearbook reflects that.
THAT'S JUST WHAT I WANT, HAD A SENIOR YEAR AT THIS POINT. IT WASN'T, IT WASN'T ALL TROOPS, IT WAS …
What about, what about the next year? Get that, that, not, not say anything about that?
NOT, NO, LET'S JUST (INAUDIBLE OVERLAP) REST OF THE YEAR.
I HAVE THE SECOND STICKS.
[sigh] I've forgotten, did you want to ask …
TELL US, WHAT WAS IT LIKE, THAT, THAT SENIOR YEAR FOR YOU? ANYTHING THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND?
You know I think the senior year is always a very special year. Uh, being seventeen is a special time of life. And when I think of my senior year, most of my memories are, are, are the real fun ones: homecoming, cheerleading, research paper, um, the dances, the people you dated, uh, slumber parties; all the fun things that seventeen-year-olds, I think, should be doing. And even though we were making headlines, it was, it was a fun year.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT GRADUATION? OOPS.
SOUND IS, CAMERA IS STOPPED FOR A SECOND. 100 FEET REMAINING.
I'M GOING TO ASK YOU TO TELL US ABOUT GRADUATION DAY. A PRETTY DAY?
Graduation Day was a pretty day, and that was one of the concerns, because when you have an outdoor graduation, you want it to be a pretty day. Uh, I don't think it had entered my mind that there might be any kind of incident. Uh, one just thought in terms of hoping everything went well, with a new kind of program, we didn't have a speaker, we had some kind of original composition, that was going to be sort of, I don't know, it was going to be a, a talk, or a song. I never could figure it out, it was sort of an in-between kind of thing. But it went well. Um, right before graduation, um, it did come back to the forefront of my thoughts that Central was making news again, because I received a phone call, and um, I was a class os—officer, and so someone from one of the major news networks wanted to interview me about what the year had been like, um, sort of looking at Central nine months later. But instead of just giving the interview, I, being a child of the 50s, asked the superintendent if he thought it would be a good idea, and following through with the strategy of the administration not to seek publicity, and to sort of downplay the whole thing, then he suggested that I not do it. And uh, so I said no, and then promptly forgot it, and went on to making sure you had white shoes to go with the cap and gown, and so, you know, graduation went off without a hitch. I wish now that I had known that Dr. Martin Luther King was at my graduation, and I would have made it a point to have looked for him, but at that point, I didn't even know who he was.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN ERNIE GOT UP? WAS THERE ANYTHING DIFFERENT ABOUT THAT, WHEN HE GOT UP FOR HIS DIPLOMA? OR WAS IT JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?
I don't recall it being any different. Um, so, in one sense, if I don't recall any difference, then maybe, at least, it seemed like everyone else. It seemed to me that Ernie, since he was the only senior, um, and that was my class, it seemed like he was an accepted member of the class, and so we didn't want anything different to be made of it, if it was going to come out in the class—-in the papers as sensationalized.
DID YOU EVER TALK TO HIM? OR TO ANY OF THE LITTLE ROCK NINE?
Ernie was the only one of the Little Rock Nine that I ever talked to, and it was in trig class. that's all right, it wasn't …
SORRY ABOUT THAT. THAT WAS A CAMERA ROLLOUT.
How many more questions do you have? [Chuckles, sighs.]
ALMOST NONE. UM, LET ME BACK UP FOR A MOMENT HERE, AND ASK YOU TO DESCRIBE CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL FOR US. BIG SCHOOL?
Little Rock Central is one of the most beautiful buildings, and one of the prettiest schools, and so when I think of it, I have such, such nice thoughts about the school. But it is huge. And I moved here from um, Dallas, when I was a junior, and it was a rather large high school that I moved from, but nothing compared to Central. So when you go in, and particularly if you go in at the bottom floor of one of the side, um, side entrances, and you have a first class in that part of the building, and then your second class is maybe on the third floor at the other end of the building, that's when you really become aware of how big the school is. And how many students there are in the halls. Which is why, if you're the type of student who gets to class on time, then you don't have a lot of time for milling and greeting and whatever else students, students tend to amble, today, instead of walk. But if you're at Central, you have to walk.
YOU TOLD US THAT, THAT THE THING, ONE THING ABOUT THE SIZE WAS THAT IT MEANT THAT THE NINE KIDS WERE KIND OF NOT VISIBLE, THERE WERE TOO MANY OTHER KIDS AROUND. YOU JUST, YOU MIGHT GO A WHOLE DAY WITHOUT SEEING THEM.
Uh, central is such a large school, that when you have about 2,000 students, nine blacks, one could easily go through the day, every day, without seeing a single one of the nine, any of the nine.
WHEN YOU, DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW ANY OF THE BLACK STUDENTS? DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT THEY LOOKED LIKE? DID THEY LOOK NERVOUS? NORMAL? WERE THEY WELL DRESSED?
I don't recall the first time that I saw any of the Little Rock Nine. I don't have any recollections.
WHEN YOU'D SEE THEM IN THE HALLS, DID THEY LOOK LIKE THEY BELONGED THERE?
When I would see any of the nine in the halls, then it would not be often, I mean, I cannot, I can ne—cannot recall seeing any of them, except Ernie, in the halls. And when I would see Ernie, I would say, "Hi, Ernie," but that was—one didn't have time to talk, or it probably wouldn't have been—I mean, I didn't stand around the hall and talk to anyone. But it would be the – the smile, and the hi, and in that sense, is how I think that – what those of us who had the right attitude, if we had just done more, to be a support system, for nine people who were in a new situation, and uh, from their perspective, their not knowing what was going on in the minds of the other students, and yet we did not go enough out of our way to seek them out and to be a support system for them, and that's what I would do over, and I wish the administration, uh, looking back, had encouraged some groups to do, to be a support system for some young people who really needed some help. Because being in the schools today, I'm so much aware of students who have needs, and they need someone to turn to, and I'm sure that uh, those students had uh, some teachers that they felt comfortable with, and I know that Mrs. Bates offered a lot of support for them. But there were a lot of us who could have, and I wish we had.
DO YOU WANT TO STOP FOR A MOMENT?
IT DIDN'T FEEL LIKE YOU WERE UNDER ARMED GUARDS IN AN ARMED CAMP THAT YEAR?
Central was in no way an armed camp that year from my perspective. Um, it was a fun place to be, a happy place to be. I remember one of the days when we had the bomb threat, and we had to spend – oh, it probably was minutes outside, but maybe it seemed like an hour, and there was just a lot of fun conversation going on, and I noticed a picture in the yearbook of our being outside, and I recalled why we were there, and yet, you might think a bomb threat sounds scary, but I don't even remember that being scary. I think we just saw it as an excuse to get out of class.
THAT IS A PERFECT… GOOD ANSWER. AND LOOK AT YOUR TIMING. WE'RE CUT.