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Integrating Little Rock

A high-school suspension notice for Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine.

Minnijean Brown Suspension Letter

Minnijean Brown-Trickey’s suspension notice. February 6, 1958. Division of Cultural and Community Life, National Museum of American History.

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Document Text

Transcription of Suspension “Reasons”:
Reinstated on probation January 13, 1958, with the agreement that she would not retaliate verbally or physically to any harassment but would leave the matter to school authorities to handle.

After provocation of girl student, she called the girl “white trash,” after which the girl threw her purse at Minnijean.

Minnijean Brown-Trickey’s suspension notice, transcription. February 6, 1958. Division of Cultural and Community Life, National Museum of American History.

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Background

Three years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision made school segregation illegal, the school board of Little Rock, Arkansas, announced its desegregation plan. The NAACP invited local Black teenagers to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Nearly 80 families responded. The NAACP explained that participants would likely face extreme resistance. By the first day of school, only nine Black students were still willing to participate.

The federal government provided military escorts to protect the so-called Little Rock Nine from the violent mobs outside. But inside the school, white students kicked, spat on, and pushed their Black classmates. School staff banned Black students from all after school activities.

Minnijean Brown was the only member of the Little Rock Nine who did not complete the 19571958 school year at Central High. One day in January, a group of white students surrounded Minnijean and taunted her in the crowded cafeteria. She dropped a bowl of chili on one of them while trying to escape. The school suspended her for six days. The Principal allowed Minnijean to return because she agreed to never retaliate to any harassment she endured. When she returned, the bullying continued. A white boy poured soup on her head and students cheered. The school suspended him for only two days.

In February, a group of girls threw a purse at Minnijean. The purse hurt more than she expected. When she picked it up, she saw six combination locks inside. She dropped the purse on the floor and yelled, “Leave me alone, white trash.” The girls complained to the school’s administration. Because Minnijean dropped the purse and walked away, she had no proof of the locks. Minnijean was immediately suspended again for yelling at her attackers. This time the suspension was for an indefinite amount of time. In other words, Minnijean had been expelled.

After her expulsion, Minnijean moved to New York to live with Kenneth and Mamie Clark. The Clarks were highly respected child psychologists who provided the research that helped win the Brown v. Board of Education case. They invited Minnijean to live with them so she could attend an integrated public school in New York.

About the Document

This is the notice of indefinite suspension Minnijean and her parents received after the purse-throwing incident. The document states that the white girl threw her purse after Minnijean yelled. Minnijean insisted it was the opposite. This document is evidence of the impossible circumstances that Minnijean and the Little Rock Nine faced. The school’s administration set different standards for its white students and for its Black students.

Vocabulary

  • Brown v. Board of Education: A 1954 Supreme Court Case in which the Court ruled that laws that allowed for “separate but equal” education for students of different races were a violation of the Constitution.
  • combination lock: A metal lock often used by students to secure their school lockers.
  • desegregate: To end segregation by bringing people of different races, classes, or ethnic groups together.
  • expel: Permanently remove from a school or organization.
  • expulsion: The act of expelling someone.
  • integrate: To bring people from different races or backgrounds together.
  • NAACP: Stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A civil rights organization that was founded in 1909 to oppose discrimination and still exists today.
  • psychologist: An expert who studies human behavior and the brain.
  • retaliate: To act or attack in response to an attack.
  • suspend: To temporarily remove someone from a school or organization.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you learn about Minnijean from this document?
  • What agreement did Minnijean make with the school after she was suspended for dropping chili on a student in January? What do you think about this agreement?
  • How did the school respond to Minnijean’s response to the girls’ attack in February? What do you think of this response?
  • What does this document tell you about the expectations the Little Rock Nine had to meet?
  • Why do you think Minnijean moved to New York after her year at Central High?
  • If you have learned about the Little Rock Nine before, how does this document change or enhance what you thought you knew?
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Suggested Activities

Themes

AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP; ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE

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