On April 24, Nobles had the honor of welcoming Minnijean Brown-Trickey, a member of the Little Rock Nine, to campus for Long Assembly. “I love having conversations with young people,” she began. “It gives me pleasure. It inspires me. It gives me hope.”

Brown-Trickey’s relatable sense of humor and unabating activism are inspiring, especially given what she endured at the young age of 15. In the early morning hours of September 4, 1957, Brown-Trickey did not realize the historic impact of what she was about to do. Like so many other students that day, she was walking into her first day of school at Little Rock Central High. When she and eight of her peers entered the school doors, however, they would be the first Black students to attend the all-white school, marking the beginning of desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Brown-Trickey shared their plans for that day were thwarted—by The National Guard on that first day and an angry mob on the second. Three weeks later, on September 25, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to disperse the mob and escort the Little Rock Nine into the building for their first full day of school.

“Anyone here 15?” she asked the students. “We can make really important decisions when we are 15,” she explained. For Brown-Trickey, the pivotal decision she made on September 1957 was to commit to living a life without hate. “I saw peoples’ mouths gaping open, screaming hate mixed with religion,” she recalled. “I saw the behavior of those people, and I said, “ ‘I will never be like that. I will never allow anyone to persuade me to engage in that manner. Nor will I find a reason to hate another human being, because it doesn’t look very pretty.’ ” A self-proclaimed peacemaker, Brown-Trickey has advocated for civil rights through pacifism and void of hatred ever since.

During her visit, Brown-Trickey welcomed questions from students who anxiously awaited their turn to thank her for coming to speak to them and ask her thoughts on probing questions about civil rights. Student questions ranged from an inquiry about whether non-violence has the power to elicit dramatic change and how students can use education to empower their voices and ensure they are heard to a solicitation for advice about addressing systemic racism for members of a predominantly white institution.

In reflecting on what it was like to be one of the Little Rock Nine, Brown-Trickey explained that when she eventually did some therapy to identify her most basic emotion around the experience, she was surprised to find that what emerged was not anger but sorrow. “So now I honor my feelings,” she explained. “I’ve been in situations with a huge audience, and without my awareness tears have been coming down my face. So it’s real; it’s still with me, but this is why I do this…This is good for me. This is one of the ways that I think for all of The Nine, as long as we’re alive, we’re going to talk about this history. We are historical figures and we’re going to talk about it, but we also are working on our healing by doing this.”

view all news