Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals
QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT I'D LIKE TO JUST PICK UP WITH, TALKING ABOUT SEEING THESE PEOPLE TURN AROUND, STILL HOW OLD ARE YOU? YOU'RE SEVENTEEN AT THE TIME? FIFTEEN YEARS OLD AND PEOPLE TURN AROUND AND LOOK AT YOU. AT FIFTEEN, WHAT DO YOU SEE IN [ THEIR FACE ]?

Melba Pattillo Beals:

Anger, more anger than I've ever seen. You know, when I look at the people and they turned around, I saw anger, more anger than I've ever seen in my life. And I felt real pain because I hadn't done anything to them. And it was an anger I didn't understand. But it was a lethal anger and something inside me said, "You're in danger," you know? And it was painful, it was like, you know, "What did I do? Why don't they like me? What's wrong with me? Why don't I measure up, why do they want to kill me, what have I done that somebody could want to kill me? And so, I backed up in defense, but, I remember almost stumbling. It was sort of like I was in a, in a [gap] and I wasn't really, you know, this can't be my reality. This is a bad dream, you know, why are they doing this? Of course, I had always been afraid of the white people in Little Rock and I knew that I knew my parameters. I knew the line not to step over and I had not stepped, in my estimation, over that line. So, what was going to happen to me, I was just, just, incredible arms reaching out, eyes looking, red-faced anger. You know, "Get her! Kill her, hang her, we got us a nigger! We got us two niggers!" And that was me they were talking about. That was my mother they were talking about. But my mother, my mother, see, was, was sane and was on top of it because it was her shouting, her yelling that kept me conscious of what I was doing. And so, I obeyed her, you know, without thought. That's how we saved our lives. That's how we got to the car.