HOPE – The legacy of Spirit Trickey’s mother as a member of the “Little Rock Nine” that began to turn the page regarding black civil rights in Arkansas was lost on Trickey until history began to repeat itself in her own life.
“I grew up a regular kid,” Trickey told combined classes at the Hope Academy of Public Service recently. “I had no idea of my mother’s past.”
She learned the story of Minniejean (Brown) Trickey and the “Little Rock Nine” integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957 through a chance reading of the book “Warriors Don’t Cry,” and the subsequent film based upon the lives of the nine black students who volunteered to be the first to transfer to the all-white LR Central.
“I was in the eighth grade, and I started doing my own investigation” Trickey said.
She learned some of the same things that happened to her mother during that tumultuous year in 1957 had never really gone away.
“I was bullied in school,” Trickey said. “It was the same cycle when we were the only brown kids in school.”
Yet, Trickey lived and went to school… in Canada.
“I learned that if she could withstand it, so could I,” Trickey noted. “One of the very important lessons of the ‘Little Rock Nine’ was non-violence; a very powerful strategy.”
She recounted how her mother volunteered, along with more than nine other students, to transfer from all-black Dunbar High School in Little Rock to LR Central after the landmark “Brown v. Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education” civil rights case was decided by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1954.
She explained how that decision expanded opportunities for black students who, under the doctrine of “separate, but equal” which had been the law since the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, had not been genuinely given equal opportunities in public education.
The decision, Trickey noted, was enforced when President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent some 2,000 troops into Little Rock to ensure the students’ safety.
“Every day when the kids went to school, they were harassed,” Trickey said.
The constant intimidation ate away at the numbers of black students willing to complete the transition.
“That’s how the Little Rock Nine became the Little Rock Nine,” Trickey said.
Ultimately, the frustration became too much for the black teen. When Trickey’s mother was slapped with a girl’s purse one day, she shouted at the girl, “Leave me alone, white trash.”
That cost Minniejean Brown suspension, and ultimately expulsion, from Little Rock Central High School.
Trickey said her mother was invited to move to New York by friends of her family, and she finished school there, eventually marrying and moving with Trickey’s father to Canada during the Vietnam War.
“When my mother was growing up in Little Rock, she loved ice cream; but, she couldn’t go into the Dairy Queen,” Trickey said. “She had to go around to the side window to get her ice cream.”
Trickey served for 10 years as a park ranger at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, where she honed her understanding of the history and her mother’s legacy. Now, she holds a master’s degree from the William Jefferson Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock.
“Public service is standing up for what is right; and, making it better in your community,” she said.