Two Heroic Girls

AFRO Archived History

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This week marks 60 years since a group of African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. At the same time, a group of students integrated Harry Harding High School in Charlotte, N.C. The AFRO spoke to two of the students, one from each school, to get their first hand accounts of what happened.

Tell what it’s like to face a mob

Sept. 14, 1957

“What is it like to walk to school through a jeering, howling mob?”

Two 15-year-old girls who emerged as heroines of the Southwide back to school controversy, one in Charlotte, N.C. and the other in Little Rock, Ark., told the AFRO of the turmoil and aguish of their ordeal.

During an interview, the girl in Little Rock, Miss Elizabeth Echford, said: “It was a horrible experience, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Sounding as if she was on the verge of becoming hysterical, she apologized. “I’m sorry, I can’t cooperate,” she said.

Miss Dorothy Geraldine Counts, who was much calmer, said: “To tell the truth, I really had no feelings about it.”

She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Counts, of Charlotte. She entered Harry Harding High School, last Wednesday, amidst a mob of shouting, gesticulating white students and adults.

Some members of the mob hurled rocks and sticks. One person spat on her. She was jostled as she returned home and struck once, lightly, with a stick. Police arrested two of her tormentors, a boy and girl.

Miss Counts, who was accompanied by Dr. Edwin Tompkins, a faculty member at Johnson C. Smith University, was one of three colored students to enter schools in Charlotte last week.

“Did you know any of the children who gathered outside the school?” she was asked.

“No, I didn’t,” the girl answered.

Although the Little Rock girl, Miss Echford, could not discuss her experiences in detail, some of the blank spots were filled in by Mrs. L. C. Bates, president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP Branches.

“The horror of what happened to her is just too much for a 15-year-old girl,” Mrs. Bates explained.

Mrs. Bates explained further that the girl was the only one of the nine students turned back by the National Guard Troops who arrived at Central High School unaccompanied.

“The school board instructed her to go to the school just as she would any school. But when she was cornered by the mob, not a soldier nor a policeman raised a hand to help her,” Mrs. Bates declared.

A white woman, Mrs. Grace Lorch, a longtime fighter for civil rights, went to the girl’s rescue.

The crowd denounced her for actions. When the girl and Mrs. Lorch attempted to go into a drugstore to call a cab, the proprietor slammed the door in their faces.

Thus thwarted, the girl and woman were forced to push their way through the mob to get to the bus stop.

Many white students of Central High, waiting for classes, started following her, and halfway down the block some 100 to 200 persons, mostly students but with some adults, began calling to her.

“They said: ‘Throw her out, send her back to the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt. The girl kept walking.”