Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals


Melba Pattillo Beals:

I'd only been in the school a couple of hours and by this time it was apparent that the mob was just over running the school. Policemen were throwing down their their badges and the mob was getting past the wooden sawhorses because the police would no longer fight their own in order to keep, to protect us. And so we were all called into the principal's office and there was great fear that we would not get out of this building. We were trapped. And I thought, "OK, so I'm going to die here—school." And I remember you know, thinking back to what I'd been told that understand the realities of where you are and pray. And at one point, someone in this crowd, this crowd of adults were panicked. This is the other thing that I could see is that even the adults, the school officials were panicked—like no protection. And somebody made a suggestion, a couple of the kids, the black kids that were with me were crying and someone made a suggestion that if they allowed the mob to hang one kid, while they were hanging the one kid, they could then get the rest out. And a gentleman, who I believed to be the Police Chief said, "Huh, which one? How are you going to choose? you're going to let them draw straws?" He said, "I'll get them out." And we were taken to the basement of this place, and we were put into two cars, grayish-blue colored Fords. And the man instructed them, he said, "Once you start driving, do not stop."** And he told us to put our heads down. So the guy revved up the engine. There was a whole, you know, there was a [gap] that elapsed, they got the gas together and got these cars. This guy revved up his engine and he came up out of the bowels of this building and as he came up, I could just see hands reaching across this car, I could hear the yelling, I could see guns, and he was told not to stop. If you hit somebody, you keep rolling, ‘cause the kids are dead. And he did just that, and he didn't hit anybody, but he certainly was forceful and aggressive in the way he exited this driveway because people tried to stop him and he dropped me off at home. And I remember saying, "Thank you for the ride," and I should've said, "Thank you for my life."** And I came in the front door that day and my grandmother and my mother were beginning to say then that you will not go back. But that was when Eisenhower sent a man from Central Intelligence Agency so here in the middle of the night, by this point, the local ministries were guarding—