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Member of Little Rock Nine visits Findlay to speak about black history month

Jefferson Thomas has memories.

One of them is hearing and seeing a representative of an angry mob attempting to make a deal with police in Little Rock, Ark. a little more than 50 years earlier.

“The Supreme Court ruled for schools to be integrated but you couldn’t find blacks who would go. The status quo was if the white community objected and threatened violence it (school integration) was called off.”

The deal suggested the mob would stop disrupting students trying to get to class at one of the city’s high schools and disperse if they could have one of a group of nine black students to lynch.

Thomas was one of these nine students—known today as the Little Rock Nine—a group of black students who wanted to enroll in Little Rock’s prestigious Central High school in 1957.

Thomas visited The University of Findlay last week to meet and talk with students about his experience as one of the individuals who pioneered integrated schools.

“He is a symbol of hope, a symbol of strength and determination. Not for fame’s sake, but he’s also a symbol of higher education,” said Barrett Brooks, a senior marketing major.

Brooks who is a Christian also felt that it was a blessing from God that Thomas survived to be able to tell his tale.

"You can't have a testimony without a test," Brooks said.

The test of  faith came when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education opened the door legally to students like Thomas and his eight classmates.

Brown’s central ruling was that there is no such thing under law as separate but equal facilities, a practice that kept whites and blacks apart.

This meant the schools had to be integrated. White schools and black schools were no longer legal.
The problem was that few students and parents were brave enough to try and enroll in white schools.

“The Supreme Court ruled for schools to be integrated but you couldn’t find blacks who would go,” Thomas said. “The status quo was if the white community objected and threatened violence it (school integration) was called off.”

Though audience members could feel the tension of Thomas’ action in his retelling of the story, there was also some humor when the audience began to realize the students who were a part of the first major integration were very unaware of the stakes their actions could have on the United States.

Laughter was a sound delighted Almar Walter, director of Intercultural Student Services.

“His speech put you right there…it helped us understand how the civil rights movement really was,” Walter said.

Walter and the club he advises Black Student Union will be hosting events to celebrate Black History month through February. 

For a schedule of events  please call the ISS office at 419-434-6967.

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