Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals
QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

JUST IN TALKING ABOUT THE TWO SIDES AND THAT BUFFER IN THE MIDDLE, YOU'VE GOT PEOPLE WHO ARE ANGRY AND WANT TO HURT YOU THERE, WHITE FACES. YOU GOT THESE AIRBORNE GUYS WHO COME IN, THEY'RE ALSO WHITE. HOW DO YOU TRUST THEM THAT THEY'RE GOING TO BE THERE FOR YOU?

Melba Pattillo Beals:

As a fifteen-year-old, you know it was a war. And you did have, you had the troops and you had all these kids and all these parents, all these white kids in this school. And at first, as a fifteen-year-old, you don't understand what's wrong with you. I was bright, I could talk faster and better than they could, and I was certain my IQ was much higher than 100% of them. And I was informed, and I was together and I knew it. My mother was a teacher, I knew who I was. And I wondered, "What's the matter with me," you know, "What's going on here?" What's, what's—so, first you know, it's like you're a stranger in a strange land. And, you've got yourself. First of all, you first start to doubt yourself. Then you wonder you know, how you got into this movie, what's God doing with you? And there's a whole lot of stuff that's—goes in your head, a lot of pain. The kids who were there, some days, they would say, this one girl's name was Sammie Dean Parker—I've never forgotten the names—the other guy that tortured me the most was named David Sontag. Sammie Dean would say, "Come sit with me today, we're going to salute the flag together." This is in home room. "We're going to do so-and-so together," they'd be one day. The next day, you'd come in and she'd [throw] ink at you, or she'd throw a rock across the room at you, or she'd call you "nigger" as you walked in the door. You, you know inside I had to learn to trust somebody. I had to learn to get a point of sanity. My point of sanity was my religion, was God. As far as the troops were concerned, I was always scared that they wouldn't, and frightened of how they would. I was frightened, but after a while they proved themselves in the sense that they would stand up and they proved—my own bodyguard proved to me that when the chips were down, he would help. On the other hand, there was always that little teeny thought in my mind that there are nine of us, 2,500 of them, maybe a thousand troops in the backyard, actually there. What would happen if all of those folks would decide that they didn't like me? So that thought always lurked in my mind. But you have to, I had to after a while establish some point of sanity. You gotta trust somebody, somewhere somehow, because you're going nuts anyway, you know. And the way I did it, the way I handled it, was to kind of joke about it and—but you're going nuts. It's crazy, you know. Why are you here? What are you doing here? At fifteen years of age you don't have the emotional equipment to understand that you're OK. And that's what you've got to understand most of all is, I'm OK, you know. This guy doesn't like me, but I'm OK.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

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