In her memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba Pattillo Beals walks students into the events of Central High School and makes them feel the sting of physical and emotional abuse the Little Rock Nine suffered as they lived the history of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Beals’ book tells the story of young people who became accidental heroes when their lives intersected a movement for justice in education, and they made the choice to join the movement instead of taking an easier path.
Because the book is written about Melba’s high school experience, it hits close to home for students. They wonder how she kept going. And while they admire Grandma India, they think it’s unfair when Melba isn’t allowed to attend the school’s wrestling matches. They feel Melba’s pain when her friends don’t attend her birthday party and they applaud Minniejean for dumping chili on the boy who harassed her. They discuss the horrors that the students faced “the mobs, the daily acts of violence” and wonder how the Little Rock Nine persevered. These conversations open the door for us to talk about how Melba and her family see her actions as a part of a collective struggle for African Americans, not just an act for Melba’s self-improvement.
Through the story of the Little Rock Nine, students can see that at points in history, people have the power to reshape the course of events. Beals’ memoir also underscores how hard African Americans have worked to get an “equal” education in this country, how much they have sacrificed—including their lives—for the right to learn.
Warriors Don’t Cry is a home-run book with students: They not only read it, they get passionate about it. In Portland, students read Warriors in many untracked 9th-grade academies that integrate language arts, social studies, and science classes. I taught this memoir in the junior year when I taught a combined Literature and U.S. History class. In fact, the book can be taught from 5th grade on up. [Description by Linda Christensen.]
ISBN: 9780671899004 | Published by Simon & Schuster.