Elizabeth Eckford’s America

I’m as overjoyed as most other people about the new President-Elect of the United States, but won’t do the obligatory gushing blog post for fear of descending into platitude. I do, however, want to share this Vanity Fair article I read over a year ago, and which I searched out and reread the day Obama won the elections, because it had stayed with me all that time.

The article isn’t about Obama but Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine and subject of the famous photo you’ve probably seen of her attempt to enter her newly desegregated high school while behind her, a white girl’s face explodes in hatred. The article recounts that fateful day, Elizabeth’s harrowing high school years of constant bullying and total isolation, and how she continued to struggle with these experiences well into her adult life. Most fascinatingly, it tells of the reconciliation, friendship even, that occurred forty years later between Elizabeth and the angry white girl in the photograph, Hazel Bryan.

I’ll leave you to appreciate Through A Lens, Darkly in its full length. It paints a complex picture I’d rather not reduce to a summarizing, rose-tinted doodle, but I think it’s a fitting complement to one of the last few lines in Obama’s wonderful victory speech, where he was speaking about 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper and what she’d seen in her life: “And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.”

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