Elizabeth Eckford in Pensacola to share how she braved hate as one of the Little Rock Nine

One of the first Black students in the country to integrate into a white high school will be in Pensacola on Thursday to speak about her experiences.

Elizabeth Eckford was one of nine Black students who desegregated Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. A photograph of Eckford being followed by an angry mob of white students and adults on the first day of school is one of the most enduring images of the civil rights movement.

Less prominent is the story of the ongoing harassment Eckford's suffered during her school life at Central. She will discuss her experiences at "An Evening with Elizabeth Eckford: Little Rock Nine Icon" at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Pensacola State College in the Ashmore Auditorium at 1000 College Blvd., Building 8, in Pensacola.

Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in 1957 in the face of threats, speaks in Shreveport, La., on Jan. 22, 2019.
Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in 1957 in the face of threats, speaks in Shreveport, La., on Jan. 22, 2019.

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Eckford will be joined by her friends, the mother-daughter duo Eurydice and Grace Stanley. All three women collaborated on a book called "The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High" in 2017 as a response to the rise of suicides by bullied students, the death of Eurydice's brother by suicide and the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine.

The book was a chance to detail what happened to Eckford after all these decades, as well as a chance to encourage victims of bullying stand strong and be resilient.

"Elizabeth always stresses to children, because they always say, 'You're so brave. I could never do this,' and Elizabeth says, 'Yes, you could, because I am an ordinary person,'" Eurydice Stanley said. "And she talks about ordinary people being able to do extraordinary things. You know, a lot of times people don't know what they can do until they're faced with it. So, when we tell Elizabeth's story, we want to ensure that the students understand that there is nothing that Elizabeth did that they couldn't do."

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In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in the Brown v. Board of Education case that all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional and called for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation.

Following the ruling, the Little Rock school board pledged to voluntarily desegregate its schools, and in 1957 the nine Black students began attending the once all white Central High School.

On Sept. 4 when trying to enter the school, they were met by a large white mob who began shouting, throwing stones and threatening to kill the students. They also encountered 270 soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard, sent by Arkansas Gov. Orval Eugene Faubus, who prevented them from entering the school.

The other eight students had arrived together, driven by Arkansas NAACP member Daisy Bates. However, Eckford wasn't notified about a last-minute change to the carpool plans because her family did not have a telephone.

Eckford went to school by herself and was met by a screaming crowd that harassed her. National Guard members who refused to let her into the school, and had to walk back to the bus stop by herself with the mob following her.

White students and adults harass Elizabeth Eckford, one of nine Black students attempting to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 4, 1957.
White students and adults harass Elizabeth Eckford, one of nine Black students attempting to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 4, 1957.

Important historical events like this are why the Equity Project Alliance — a group of local business owners and leaders whose goal is to confront systemic racism and start conversations about transformative thinking, unity and equity — wanted to bring Eckford to Pensacola.

Lusharon Wiley, vice president of corporate culture at Innisfree Hotels, wants people to learn about the historical impact of the moment, to understand the bravery of the nine students and to learn from one of the trailblazers of the civil rights movement firsthand.

"I think, as I look at the picture of her where the crowd of people are behind her and there she was as a 15-year-old — just help me understand, how can we understand where that depth of conviction and bravery come from?" Wiley said. "I think that's a piece that I'd like to hear as she reflects on this 65 years later."

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Stanley's book was made possible by her longtime friendship and closeness to Eckford.

Stanley did her dissertation on racial reconciliation at the Louisiana Baptist University and Seminary. When she visited the Central High Museum in 1999 and saw the famous photo of Eckford being harassed by students, she whispered out loud how she like to talk with Eckford. An employee heard her and gave her Eckford's number.

Stanley met with Eckford and learned about the physical, emotional, verbal and mental abuse she endured at Central High School. Stanley finished her dissertation and for years they remained close.

Stanley wants people to read the book and understand these things are still happening today. She said people must understand and learn about the past to better understand their present and to predict their future.

"This was something that she lived through and she wants students to know that she was attacked every single day, but she never thought to take her own life," Stanley said. "We want students to understand what we say in the book — give tomorrow another chance — and we want them to do that every single day. You can't give your power to the bully and you definitely cannot give your life to a bully."

This event is presented by the Equity Project Alliance in partnership with the Delta Iota Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP for seats, go to eventbrite.com.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Little Rock Nine Elizabeth Eckford in Pensacola talking desegregation