Ernest Green, one of nine teens to integrate a Little Rock high school in 1957, spoke last night. In 1957, Ernest Green faced jeers, racial slurs and overwhelming hatred from hordes of white teenagers as he entered Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Last night, 32 years after securing a key role in the civil rights movement as one of the "Little Rock Nine," Green delivered an engaging keynote address in College Hall as part of the United Minorities Council's Unity Week. Green was part of the first group of African-American students to enroll at Central High School following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision that declared school segregation illegal. In his talk, Green stressed that all people can and should make a difference. His experience at Central High School, now taught in schools as a defining moment in the civil rights movement, became the subject of a recent film and earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor last week. Much of Green's talk focused on the integration of the school and the controversy surrounding it. When he enrolled at Central in the late 1950s, Green said, he had been merely trying to improve his personal lot. Little did he know, however, that being one of the first black students to demand rights in a then all-white school would have a major effect on the entire nation. "Coping was part of our issue at Little Rock," Green said. "I didn't have any particular insight into the future." Although Green might not have fully understood the implications of integration then, he was hardly oblivious to the danger of his situation. "Armed federal escorts were as much an entrance requirement for me and [the other African-American students] as pencils and paper," Green told the crowd. "It was a dangerous time for black folk who had the hope and courage to dare not know their place." But the potential harm that the nine teenagers' actions presented did not subdue Green and the other students. Instead, they relied on the "fundamental belief that you were either going to deal or get dealt." Green underlined his point by quoting Frederick Douglass, who said, "You may not get what you pay for but you certainly will pay for what you get. Power concedes nothing." Still, Green said, the parents of the nine students deserve as much recognition as the students themselves, for it was the parents who were willing to risk their families' welfare in order to change the status quo. "They were able to see the difference between the American Dream and the American reality [and] they were able to sacrifice their own personal comfort to merge the two," Green said. Shifting forward, Green expressed pleasure with the strides taken since the 1950s to improve race relations and seemed optimistic about the future. "We are very much more alike than we are different," Green said. But the work begun with Green's integration and continued with protests and marches throughout the following decade is far from done, he noted. "With so many core common experiences? how have we gotten to the place where we have gotten so far apart?" Green asked the audience. In order to bridge the gap between different cultures -- a chasm which Green said is considered exceptionally large by many "scientists and sociologists" -- he urged students to get involved in their local communities. "When you leave these hallowed walls of the University of Pennsylvania, it is up to you to be of service to the greater community," Green told the students. There are also opportunities for students to give back while at the University, Green said. He cited student groups, religious organizations and mentoring as some examples. "The lesson from Little Rock is that we can change our environment, we can change the world," Green said. When asked how he is continuing his service work, Green told the group that he works with various service organizations, serves on the board of Africare, a non-profit organization which deals with quality of life issues in rural Africa, and has created a scholarship with his wife for minority students at Michigan State University, his alma mater. During the question-and-answer period, a student asked Green his views on the push to end busing students from underfunded school districts to better schools. With regard to what one student called the current "assault on affirmative action," Green expressed a lack of concern for the future of the institution. He believes even if affirmative action falls out of favor now, it will return -- although not necessarily under the same name. "Corporations? will want to grab talent, no matter what color it is," Green said.Comments powered by Disqus
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