Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals
QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

SO NOW, NOW YOU'VE GOTTEN INTO THE SCHOOL CAN YOU DESCRIBE TO ME BEING IN THAT SCHOOL? AND GIVE ME SOME ILLUSTRATIONS IN TERMS OF INCIDENTS, BUT AT THE SAME TIME KEEP, ALSO HELP ME TO UNDERSTAND HOW IT'S AFFECTING YOU, HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT ALL THIS?

Melba Pattillo Beals:

A little bit of time passed before we, you know, we went back to the school. Couple days, I remember, and I was by now scared, truly. From the top of my head to the tip of my toes, frightened, with a kind of fear that I can not even explain to you, a wrenching, horrifying, desolate kind of fear. There's nobody here but me, and my Grandmother said, "There's God there." So, my Grandmother taught me to say the 23rd psalms.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

TAKE 5.

Melba Pattillo Beals:

OK, the first time, the first day, I was able to enter Central High School, what I felt inside was stark raving fear, terrible, wrenching, awful fear, a fear that I cannot explain to you. There are no words for how I felt inside. I knew I was into a space that I had never been, and I knew no pain, I'd known no pain like that because I didn't know what I'd done wrong. You see, when you're fifteen years old, and someone's going to hit you or hurt you, you want to know what you did wrong. Although I knew the difference between black and white, I didn't know the penalties one paid for being black at that time. So I was a child. And I remember walking through the glass[sic], grass to the car to go to school thinking, "I'm going to get water on my saddle shoes." My grandmother always made me polish my shoes. And I remember looking at the ground and thinking, "Oh, if I could just turn back," you know. But we went to school that day and I went in a car with Elizabeth Eckford, with, Terry, with a bunch of other kids, and we entered the side of the building** again, the sounds like in a football game, thousands of people out front and we were entering the side and I could just get a glimpse of this group and in the car, on the car radio I could hear that there was a mob. And I knew what a mob meant and I knew that the sounds that came from the crowd were very angry. So we, we entered the side of the building, very, very fast** even as we entered there were people running after us, there were people tripping other people. And once you, once I got into the school, into Central High School, it was very dark, it was like a deep, dark castle. And my eyesight had to adjust to the fact that there were then people all around me. Children, youngsters, some were in class ‘cause they brought us in later, during the middle class and we were met by school officials and very quickly dispersed our separate ways. And there is, has been never in my life any stark terror or any fear that akin to that.