Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals
QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

YOUR LIFE IS BEING CONSUMED BY THIS DESEGREGATION EFFORT HERE. I MEAN, DID YOU EVER GO HOME AND JUST FEEL LIKE, "WHY ME? WHY? WHAT RIGHT DOES ANYONE HAVE TO TAKE THIS FROM ME, TO PUT ME IN THIS SITUATION?" WAS THERE BITTERNESS?

Melba Pattillo Beals:

See, as a fifteen-year-old I could, I didn't have time to think, "Why me?" Not a lot. There was not a lot of bitterness. There was just fear—stark, raving, compelling fear. Fear that just engulfed me twenty-four hours a day. There wasn't time to think sort of "Why me?" There was always preparation. There was always hearing things on the radio. There was always reading things, always being told how to behave by adults. For a year of my life I was on, part of that time, I had to be fed intravenously because I was ill. There was a part of the time where you snap out, you know, but there was no thought. I mean I had gone beyond a point that I couldn't get backward, I couldn't go backwards to a normal life. I couldn't step back to relax. I remember we got a TV and I sort of looked at TV a little bit, but I mean I was wound out into a space that you have to be in, I believe, to be a warrior. And I can only describe it now as an adult, and that space is that life is no longer normal, that your clothes ready, you polish your shoes, your life goes on automatic pilot. And the discipline that my mother and grandmother had given me up to that point was what sustained me, I did it all but I did it all from a distance looking at myself doing it, ‘cause, you know, "I can't believe I'm here, I can't believe this is happening, and what's going to happen after this and how's this all going to end and when are they going to stop and ouch." Just "Ouch."