Two Women of Little Rock

From the book jacket:

Elizabeth and Hazel is about the lives of the two central figures in one of the most harrowing and instantly recognizable photographs of the civil rights era: the picture, taken on September 4, 1957, of Elizabeth Eckford, immaculate in a handmade white cotton pique skirt and blouse, trying to enter, and desegregate, Little Rock Central High School, while an angry white girl, Hazel Bryan, shouts racial epithets at her from behind.

“. . . Within a few years, when no one was looking, Hazel, by then the mother of two young children, reached out and apologized to Elizabeth; more broadly, through a life of self-discovery and activism, much of it in the black community, she tried to atone for one fateful moment, one terrible mistake made as an adolescent.”

photograph by Will Counts

From the book:

Elizabeth tried to say that she was all right, but she couldn’t speak.  “Don’t let anybody see you crying, baby–brace up,” her mother told her.  “That’s just what some people want to do–see you crying.”  Then she sent Elizabeth home.  She quickly followed, making her a bacon-and-tomato sandwich, with Kool-Aid, for lunch.  That afternoon Elizabeth, along with the other black students, went to the local FBI office to give a statement.  When Elizabeth’s father had heard the reports, he had gone looking for her, bringing along a .38-caliber gun with the only three bullets he could find.  (He had reconciled himself to being killed but took a roundabout route to Central; friends dissuaded him en route from doing anything rash.)  Daisy Bates had also tuned in.  ” ‘A Negro girl is being mobbed at Central High!’ ”  ‘Oh, my God!’ I cried,” she later wrote.  ” ‘It must be Elizabeth!  I forgot to notify her where to meet us!’ ” In the black community, there was a pregnant pause as word spread that the Eckford girl had been mobbed; no one was quite sure what had happened to her.

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