Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

by Melba Pattillo Beals

Paperback, 1995




Washington Square Press (1995), Edition: Reprint, 312 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Juvenile Nonfiction. Reference. The landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, brought the promise of integration to Little Rock, Arkansas, but it was hard-won for the nine black teenagers chosen to integrate Central High School in 1957. They ran a gauntlet flanked by a rampaging mob and a heavily armed Arkansas National Guard-opposition so intense that soldiers from the elite 101st Airborne Division were called in to restore order. For Melba Beals and her eight friends those steps marked their transformation into reluctant warriors-on a battlefield that helped shape the civil rights movement.Warriors Don't Cry, drawn from Melba Beals's personal diaries, is a riveting true account of her junior year at Central High-one filled with telephone threats, brigades of attacking mothers, rogue police, fireball and acid-throwing attacks, economic blackmail, and, finally, a price upon Melba's head. With the help of her English-teacher mother; her eight fellow warriors; and her gun-toting, Bible-and-Shakespeare-loving grandmother, Melba survived. And, incredibly, from a year that would hold no sweet-sixteen parties or school plays, Melba Beals emerged with indestructible faith, courage, strength, and hope.… (more)


(142 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wdlaurie
This book is heartbreaking, as it details the grinding tale of the ongoing abuse the author struggled with as one of the 9 black children who were at the forefront of integrating Little Rock. The failure of authority figures (police, school teachers and officials) who ignored, or worse, encouraged
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the physical and verbal abuse is stomach turning. After a few months, it sounds like all of the kids were suffering from PTSD. Imagine going to school and only feeling safe if there was a soldier next to you. Imagine not being able to go to the bathroom because girls would light paper on fire and drop it on you. In PE, their clothes were stolen and groups of kids would keep them under the shower as they turned it up to scalding.

The families of the children were also threatened, lost jobs, etc. All but one child finished out the school year.

It's a reminder that heroism often isn't a single moment of glory, but often a long, lonely path that requires persistence and unshakable conviction.
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LibraryThing member mcornett
This is a very good book. I would recommend this to anyone that is interested in the 1950's and the time when schools were being integrated. It has a very different style than any other author. The author is very descriptive in her writing. I would recommend this book for anyone!
LibraryThing member sanguinity
Beals was one of the Little Rock Nine -- the nine black students who integrated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Living hell is an appropriate term for what they went through. On their first day in class, the mob outside became so dangerous that officials inside the school discussed
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whether they should give up one of the black students to the mob -- that it might create enough of a distraction that they might be able to get the other eight out alive.

(My brain breaks. You've got nine terrified kids in your office, some of whom are still bleeding from the in-school violence that morning, the mob outside is bribing the police officers into taking off their badges and joining them, and you're discussing whether or not it makes sense to turn one of the kids over to the lynch mob? And not only are you even considering this, you're discussing this right in front of the kids? As if they do not exist? As if they do not need you to care for and protect them, both psychologically and physically?)

Even after the 101st Airborne was sent to Little Rock to subdue the mob outside the school, the violence continued inside the school, this time executed by their classmates. Despite the presence of a bodyguard from the 101st who followed Beals from class to class, Beals was throttled during assembly, stabbed during class, had acid shot into her eyes with a squirt gun, had a stick of lit dynamite thrown at her in the stairwell... These weren't isolated freak incidents. They were the highlights of an unremitting campaign of violence: of being slapped, pushed down stairs, spat on, kicked, punched, sprayed with ink or urine...

And then, at Thanksgiving, the 101st Airborne were withdrawn from Central High, leaving Beals and her eight classmates on their own.


If you can pull your eyes away from the violence, there are other important aspects to this story: political thrusts and counter-thrusts, social dynamics, peer pressure, psychological tactics. The ferocity and persistence of the violence was largely incited by the actions of one man, the Arkansas governor. The Nine were under pressure within their black community to give up the fight; everyone was suffering retaliatory violence and economic pressure, not just these nine students. As the year continued, the segregationists did not "get used to" the presence of the black students and start settling down, as so many had predicted; instead, the segregationists became more organized and more effective. Beals hints at other folks' stories: the white vice-principal who gradually stopped being an ally as the social pressure on her increased; the Airborne bodyguard who tried to secretly teach her the psychological necessities of battle; the white student who attended segregationist planning meetings and fed Beals information about where and when the most lethal attacks would be, but who also went crazy on Beals, both blaming her for "screwing up his senior year" and considering her his property since he had saved her life so many times over.

Somehow, Beals accomplished the goal she set for herself: to make it to the end of the school year, still alive and still enrolled. (One of her black classmates did not make it: she was suspended at mid-year, and then later expelled, for spilling a bowl of chili on her aggressors. Again my brain breaks.) Yet Beals never graduated from Central High -- all the high schools in the district were closed the following year -- what would have been Beals' senior year -- and then, because of escalating death threats, Beals fled Arkansas and finished high school in California.

The book is written through the voice of the fifteen year old girl Beals was at the time, and so is emotionally raw and bewildered, without the moderating perspective of the forty years that have passed. The story is both powerful and chilling, and liable to rock the comfortable worlds of people who never understood what segregation in the South meant.
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LibraryThing member srfbluemama
A moving and searing memoir of what it was like to be one of the "Little Rock Nine". Highly highly recommended. Something everyone should read to understand the reality of the civil rights movement.
LibraryThing member gkuhns
In 1957, Melba Patillo is one of nine black teenagers who attempts to integrate Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. This story details her harrowing experiences in the battle for civil rights. What is most remarkable about this book is the narrator's voice. The events of the book are so
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traumatic, but the narrative style is more like journalistic reporting than emotionally fraught personal memoir. This point of view gives immediacy to events and puts the reader in the young character’s shoes. However, the restraint makes the book more powerful because it makes the conflicts more authoritative. In this way, the main character in the book, Melba Beals, reveals much about herself by what she chooses not to say. High school students who are struggling with bullying could take comfort from the strength of this book's author.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
True to Beals's title, Warriors Don't Cry is a "searing memoir of the battle to integrate." Every day was a struggle. Civil rights were hardly observed in a civil manner. Utter hatred spawned uncontrolled violence. For Melba Beals this hatred was not something she read about or glanced at on the
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television. She live it in every step she took. She experienced it first hand simply because of the color of her skin. How brave of her to write it all down! How lucky for us she decided to remember it all! Warriors Don't Cry is not an eye-opener. We have seen these things all along. Her memoir keeps it all in view.
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LibraryThing member McFeeley
This is a haunting and insightful look at a journey taken by a young girl for the sake of so many people. Her struggles and pain, along with that of the other Little Rock Nine, are events that should always be remembered to show us how inhumaine humanity can be!

This is a great companion read to go
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along with To Kill a Mockingbird to help see the struggles of Tom and the people of the Quarters in the eyes of some real history.
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LibraryThing member YAbookfest
On Wednesday, September 4, 1957, nine young African American teens attempted to attend the all-white high school in Little Rock Arkansas. Melba Pattillo, a sweet, smart 15-year old girl was among them. She and her mother didn’t make it to the school that day. They were attacked by a raging mob of
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hateful segregationists who refused to allow Negros into their schools.

When Melba went home and wept into her pillow that day, her grandmother told her “…Make this your last cry. You’re a warrior on the battlefield for your Lord. God’s warriors don’t cry.”

In her memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba Pattillo Beals describes the long hard battle she experienced during her junior year at Central High. It took an order from the President and the Screaming Eagles from the 101st Airborne to get the students into the school and protect them. Melba was spit upon, cursed, cornered and kicked. She faced death threats and knives. Danny, her guard, taught her to deal with it like a soldier. Her grandmother, India, taught her to deal with it like God’s soldier.

Warriors Don’t Cry gives us both the personal and political perspective of these pivotal events in civil rights. We hear the voice of Melba the teen as well as the adult voice of the professional journalist she would later become. The writing is straight-forward and often intense. This is an excellent read for students in middle school or older. The organization Facing History and Ourselves offers a reader’s guide.
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Melba Pattillo Beals was one of the nine black teenagers who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. A story of courage and determination, Melba recounts the harassment she and the other eight teenagers suffered. Despite the racism of the time, numerous white and black individuals
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stepped forward to help and warn her about pre-planned attacks. This book is written in an engaging manner that keeps the reader interested. Melba’s courage and quiet dignity can be used as an example for any teenager.
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LibraryThing member Don1
Mesmerizing account of the integration of Little Rock's public high school in the 1950's. The writer was one of the few students who were the first blacks to enter the school.
LibraryThing member mjspear
Melba Beals first-hand account of her first year at all-white Central High School in Little Rock is compelling drama. The emotional and physical abuse continued all year --a surprise to this reader who was only familiar with the archetypal first-day photographs. With a plucky combination of resolve
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and faith, Melba faced a year that saw her social life dissolve, her privacy vanish, and her very being challenged. She is the ultimate hero of this book but as can be expected from such a dramatic story there are other heroes: her grandmother, "Linc" -- a white student who literally saves Melba's life due to his love for his black nanny. There are many more villains: AZ Governor Faubus, The CHS teachers -- who almost uniformly turned a blind eye to the abuse-- and "Andy" who is pathologically bent on harming Melba. Matter-of-fact reporting alternate with Melba's diary entries to make the days come alive. In a perfect world, one would have wished for better writing but no one can argue with the book's immediacy and importance. Religious content might ruffle secular feathers and frequent use of the n-word (in addition to unrelenting violence) might disturb others; otherwise, nothing objectionable.
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LibraryThing member apandrow
I read this book this last month because I wanted to be better able to help my tutoring students at Lusher with their compare and contrast essay. Students compared and contrasted Elie Wiesel, author of Night, and Melba Beals' struggle and challenges with faith, freedom, oppression, and basic human
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rights. I found this book to be insightful and well-written. Although Ms. Beals' struggle was quite different from what was experienced by Elie Wiesel, both novels explore similar themes of oppression, violence, civil and human rights, the belief in God, and finding strength in family and community. The Lusher students read these novels over the summer and, after many reviews and drafts, completed their final draft at the end of October. I would consider teaching a similar lesson in my future classroom, as it is the perfect opportunity to bridge two separate histories of people who struggle to find inner peace and freedom. Of course, the nature of their struggle is completely different, clear lines of theme, motif and symbolism run parallel in both novels.

I had never heard of Melba Beals, as Ruby Bridges was always portrayed as the poster child for school integration. The Little Rock Nine, I remember, was taught as a unit and little was discussed on the individual student's experiences. I think that this book is easy for students to relate to because of Melba Beals' age at the time and the setting of the South. I would keep this book on my shelves and encourage students to read this powerful memoir.
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LibraryThing member quiBee
This book was absolutely searing and I was devastated after reading it.
The systematic, constant harassment, vile comments and behaviour these young people had to put up with during their school year was horrifying and their bravery in sticking it out was incredible.
LibraryThing member VhartPowers
this is a painful read about the 1957 Little Rock, Arkasas Central High School integration. I cannot imagine some of the things that she endured. I was disgusted that she wasn't protected by the teachers.
LibraryThing member KeithKron
Brilliant. I literally stayed up all night reading it.
LibraryThing member ewyatt
After a tour of Central High School in Little Rock, I was inspired to pick up this book. I read the Young Readers Edition. I don't know how the Little Rock nine made it through the year. To take on that mantle in the face of such determined hatred and harassment and find the strength to go to
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school day after day during the 1957-1958 school year, it's amazing.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
In 1954 The Supreme Court Ruling Brown v. Board of Education made it law that non white people were indeed equal in ability to attend public school. Melba Patillo Turned sixteen in 1957. She and eight others were the first to test the Supreme court ruling.

They did so at the very expense of their
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lives. When they carefully walked up the steps of Little Rock Central High School. With the assistance of military guards who were not on the side of the Lille Rock Nine, but they had a job to do.

The year began and ended in hell. Melba was taunted and called "nigger" many times every day. She was told she stank. She was spit upon. Someone threw acid at her face. There always was the threat of a rope that the students told her would fit around her neck.

All to soon the nine black students realized they truly were alone. When reports of the terror they experienced, they were told to not make a big deal of it!

Page after page, Melba tells of the daily horror. They were not wanted, and they were going to pay for their upittyness!
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LibraryThing member fionaanne
Honest and straight-forward, Melba doesn't pull any punches when telling her story. I am glad she became a journalist and could share her role in history without the filter of other people. Fascinating and highly recommended.
LibraryThing member rgruberexcel
RGG: Accessible, despite being pratically unbelievable. The personal experience of one of the Little Rock Nine's first year at Central High School is detailed in horrific and courageous detail. This is the compelling history of an American teenager. Interest: YA
LibraryThing member MrsLee
A heartbreaking book full of the sinfulness of man, and yet alive with the hope of faith in God. Only Jesus will be able to heal hearts and the wounds suffered through bigotry and hatred. Please Lord, never let me add this kind of suffering to any soul.
LibraryThing member mapg.genie
Courageous, determined, brave, gutsy, and many more adjectives all describe Melba during the school year of 1957-58 in the attempts of the Little Rock Nine to integrate Central High School. The unfathomable mental and physical brutality and torture inflicted by the segregationists on these
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teenagers was relentless. How any of the nine survived is amazing and the fact that eight of them completed the year, shows the depth of their integration conviction.

It also highlights the struggles of Melba's family to support her valiant efforts to receive the same quality of education as her white counterparts in their setting.

As readers we are very fortunate that Melba shared her experiences in this book, as so many of us have no idea what African-Americans have experienced and, unfortunately, many probably still experience, along with other racial minorities.

I was a white, northern, naive 10-year-old in 1957; I cannot imagine the courage it took for those nine students to start, then continue, this monumental effort.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

312 p.; 5.31 inches


0671866397 / 9780671866396
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