Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals


Melba Pattillo Beals:

Arrangements, prior arrangements had been made that each of the children would come to Central High School as individuals, with their families or whatever. Some carpooled.**We were to meet at a specific point. No one anticipated, although there had been radio announcements of mobs gathering, sporadic fighting, or what-not, no one anticipated that there would be a mob in front of the school. The school, you must picture, is this castle so therefore the front of it is a block long and within that block perimeter, it was filled with layers and layers of red-faced, angry people. And I came up behind this group of people on the opposite, you know, just across the street from Central High School to see Elizabeth Eckford walking across the street with the mob jeering at her. And at first, you know, I was standing on tippy-toes, trying to see what everybody in front of me was looking at. You know, what was going on, had there been some [gap] of accident, why were all these people there? Why, you know? All those questions in my mind. Angry, angry people. It was like, you know when you go to a football game or rodeo, just angry, angry crowds of people. And we walked up behind these people, my mother and I. My mother was behind me, and they were jeering at Elizabeth who was across the street and, so one of them turns and says, "Now we got us a nigger." And it was at that point that my mother said, "Get to the car,** don't wait for me, don't stop, Melba, just go for it." And I couldn't drive. She said, "Get to the car," and so we were driving this Chevrolet and the guys had their t-shirts off and they had ropes, and they, they were sweating and, I saw all these faces looking at me and I remember thinking, ‘cause at first you know, when these people turn around, you want to say, "Hi, how are you?" you know. You don't understand that what they're turning around for is to kill you.** And so, I back up in astonishment, you know, like with both my hands up and my mother just screamed at me, she said, "I tell you, get to the car now! Listen to me, leave me if you have to, get to the car!" She was just screaming at me to get in this car. We both got in the car, she jammed the car to reverse and we backed down this mob. And this was my first day at Central High School.**