Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals
QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

EVERY MORNING YOU LOOKED AT YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR, THIS FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL AND YOU LOOK AT THE DAY YOU'VE GOT TO FACE. YOU LOOK AT [gap] TO THAT SCHOOL EVERY DAY?

Melba Pattillo Beals:

And it scared me to death. Going to that school every day scared me to death. To this moment, if you played Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue," I'd throw up and I'd have to go to bed because it scared me to death. It frightened me. There's a point beyond which you're not frightened. You're numb, but still in all, you're a different person than a person who's living an ordinary life because my considerations everyday were not only, you know, have I read, Newsweek and Newsweek, and I was in Newsweek and Newsweek, but not only am I keeping up with current events, am I going to be hanged or am I going to get it over the head. Am I going to be hit in the back of the head with something, or am I going to blow up with a stick of dynamite? You know, what's going to be left of me? My concerns began to be those concerns of some odd combination of adult-child warrior, you know, somebody else, somebody that nobody can define. You know, I worried about silly things like keeping my saddle shoes straight, as I said. You know, what am I going to wear today? Things that a 15-year-old girl does worry about, you know? How's my make-up, but also, which part of the hall to walk in that's the safest, what's going to be the mood of the kids in school today. And, who's going to hit me with what, is it going to be hot soup today, is it going to be hot chili, is it going to be so greasy that it ruins the dress my grandmother made for me, I mean, how's this day going to go?** Am I going to get that book that's afire in front of me away from my chest before it catches my bra on fire? It's a different thing, you start to think about. Can I just make it the next hour? Can I just make it the next half hour? And then when I used to hear those helicopters overhead, around just before three o'clock, it's time to go home, the helicopters are here to accompany me home. I've made it another day. Can I get from this desk to the hall to my locker and get out? And then you know, you get out and you get to the car and you, you know, some of the greatest times we used to have would be riding on the way home and then we'd joke and we'd kind of play with each other and you let, your stomach would kind of go back to its seat,** where it usually rests. And those would be nice times ‘cause we'd talk to each other about our day and we'd you know, I'd always make horrible, horrifying jokes about the whole thing, so that was kind of nice. But then again, we'd get probably, usually to the head of the NAACP[‘s] house, usually would be and we'd have to face a press conference.** So there would be the grown-up, watch what you say in the press conference. We could say one thing, by the way, one thing could be said in the press conference in one day, which would trigger hell the next day. One wrong comment. One wrong word, could mean that the next day in the shower, I'd get bathed in scalding water. So, I mean, I was on guard, you know, I wasn't—that was the end of my childhood. That was it—over and out.