LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – “it was really pleasant and everyone was extra nice today.”
That was the reaction of Miss Melba Patillo, pretty and vivacious junior, after her first day of integrated classes at Central High School.
She was one of the pioneering pupils at the school, four of whom held a brief press conference after school, with Mrs. L.C. Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP, as chaperone.
One young man, Terrance Roberts, one of the three boys attending the not integrated school under protection of Federal Troops, confirmed Miss Patillo’s statement that their reception at the school was good.
“THERE WAS ONLY one thing unpleasant,” said Miss Patillo, 15, who plans to become a professional dancer and a singer. “In English class one boy stood up and tried to get other pupils to leave with him.”
The other pupils ignored him, according to Miss Patillo, and the teacher told him to “Go ahead and leave.” He then asked something like “You mean you’re chicken? Nobody going with me? She said.
The children denied emphatically reports that each of them had been assigned a personal guard of paratroopers in the corridors and classrooms of the school.
“Of course there were soldiers all through the building,” explained Miss Minnie Jean Brown, also a 15-year-old junior, who says she hopes someday to be national NAACP secretary.
ALL OF THE children expressed a strong belief that the troopers would remain long enough to make certain that there would be no repeat of Monday’s performance after the troops are gone.
Young Roberts said non-chalantly that he tried to look upon his first day there as just another school day in spite of the fact that it followed by two days a previous appearance at the school when he was badly treated.
Miss Brown, stating proudly that she had already learned one of the school’s yells, gave a ringing demonstration, then waxed serious, sizing up her white classmates in these words:
“THEY DON’T HAVE anything against us. They are torn between what their parents think and what they think themselves. They just want to find out what we are like and when they discover we are nice people everyone will get along wonderfully.”
The group of nine pupils was supposed to have been swelled to 10 on Thursday when Miss June Hill, 15, was scheduled to complete her transfer from Horace Mann High to Central.
Showing an eagerness to get away from the news conference, held at a community center a short distance from the school near the dinner hour, was Miss Thelma Mothershed, 16, also a junior, who said she had homework to do.