The Day of Lead Like a Girl

by Jessica Kronstadt, WLALA President 2020-2021 

October 2020

On September 25, 2020, WLALA celebrated its Awards Dinner.  Over the last seventy years, the date of September 25 has seen, well, a lot of history.

On September 25, 1957, 300 United States Army troops stood guard as nine Black students were escorted to class at Central High School in Little Rock, AR.  In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout the South.

By 1957, the NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, Called the “Little Rock Nine”, they were: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed and Melba Pattillo Beals. After several segregationist groups threatened to hold protests at Central High and physically block these nine students from entering the school, then Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists.  On September 23, Woodrow Wilson Mann, the mayor of Little Rock, asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to enforce integration and protect the nine students. On September 24, the President ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army—without its Black soldiers, who rejoined the division a month later—to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard.  On September 25, 1957, under the guard of the 101st Airborne division, nine brave students went to school.

Ernest Green was the first African American to graduate from Central High School.  Six of the members of the Little Rock Nine are women.  Except for Ms. LaNier, none of the women who formed the Little Rock Nine graduated from Central.  They were subjected to verbal and physical abuse by their White classmates.  In many instances, they were suspended because they received such poor treatment by their White classmates and when they stood up for themselves, they were punished by the White administrators at Central.  These brave girls had no allies and no accomplices in their White classmates.  Still, each of the women who formed the Little Rock Nine graduated from college and had a lasting impact in her chosen field:

  1. Thelma Mothershed-Wair.Ms. Mothershed-Wair graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and then earned a Master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.After graduating, Ms. Mothershed-Wair worked at the St. Clair County Jail, Juvenile Detention Center in St. Clair County, Illinois, and as an Instructor of Survival Skills for Women at the American Red Cross Second Chance Shelter for the Homeless. Ms. Mothershed-Wair was honored as an Outstanding Role Model by the East St. Louis Chapter of the Top Ladies of Distinction. She also received a National Humanitarian Award.


  2. Elizabeth Eckford.Ms. Eckford graduated from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, where she majored in History.She served in the United States Army for five years and then worked as a history teacher and military reporter.Ms. Eckford currently serves as a probation officer.


  3. Minnijean Brown-Trickey.Ms. Brown-Trickey was the first student of the Little Rock Nine to be suspended.She was the only one who was eventually expelled.A group of White students threw a purse filled with heavy locks at Ms. Brown, and she called them “White trash.”She was expelled.They were not.Undeterred, Ms. Brown-Trickey graduated from Southern Illinois University and moved to Canada where she got her social work degree.When she moved back to the United States, Ms. Brown-Trickey worked in the Clinton administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Workforce Diversity at Department of the Interior.


  4. Gloria Ray Karlmark.Ms. Karlmark graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and math.After graduating, she joined IBM in Sweden, where she worked as a systems analyst and tech writer.Ms. Karlmark co-founded the journal “Computers in Industry,” and also worked as a patent attorney.


  5. Melba Pattillo Beals.In high school, Ms. Beals began writing for magazines and newspapers.She graduated from San Francisco State University and earned her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University.Ms. Beals wrote about her experience at Central in her book Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High.She currently serves as Chair Emeritus of the Communications Department at Dominican University of California in San Francisco.


  6. Carlotta Walls LaNier.In 1960, Ms. Lanier’s home was bombed.She was the first Black female to graduate from Central High School.She attended Michigan State, and ultimately graduated from Colorado State College.Ms. Lanier stayed in Colorado where she became a real estate broker.She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, and, later, the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

In 1999, President Clinton awarded Every member of the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal. 

On September 25, 1978, Melissa Ludtke, a sportswriter for Sports Illustrated, won the lawsuit she filed against then Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.  In 1977, Ms. Ludtke was reporting on the 1977 World Series, which pitted the New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  (In case you were wondering, the Dodgers lost.)  She was not allowed into the Yankees’ locker room because she was – and still is – a woman.  Ms. Ludtke sued Commissioner Kuhn on the basis that her equal rights were violated when she was denied this access.  She won the lawsuit, which gave equal access to Major League Baseball locker rooms to women sports reporters. Ms. Ludtke’s victory in that case increased enormously the number of young women who came into sports media — as reporters, as employees of sports teams and league offices, in agencies representing athletes and in other aspects of sports work with which earlier generations of women had not been involved. 

Ms. Ludtke’s victory in court occurred exactly 42 years before WLALA’s 2020 Awards Dinner.  42:  The same number was worn by Jackie Robinson.

On September 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was sworn in as the 102nd Justice on the United States Supreme Court – the first female Justice on the United States Supreme Court. 

(Mic drop.)