Jeanine Russaw interviews Ernest Green
Ernest Green—a man forced to walk through a barrage of physical harm, insults, and contemptuous glares to attend school – has lived to see two great moments in history.
“Growing up, there were two things I never thought I’d see,” Green said. “One was a president who looked like Barack Obama in the White House, the other was a free South Africa led by a Nelson Mandela.”
Green, who addressed the students of Hofstra University on Tuesday, Nov. 5, was one of nine students who integrated the formerly all-white Central High School of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. He also became the first African-American to graduate from the school in 1958.
A living link to America’s civil rights history, Green called on his young audience to use social media to highlight the continuing problems with racism in the U.S. and spread his message of a more inclusive America for future generations.
“Whether it’s the overt activity of Jim Crow laws we had in the 50s or the possibly more subtle racism today, it still restricts people’s ability,” Green said in an interview. “What we need in this country is to develop talent wherever it is and provide a foundation the country will benefit from.”
Ernest Green speaks on his experiences as one of the Little Rock Nine
LIR Photo Credit: Jeanine Russaw
During poignant pauses in Green’s presentation, words such as “leadership,” and “education” echoed among audience members; many realizing their speaker’s struggle was not “excessive” homework, but inadequate learning materials and violent confrontation.
Mark Atkinson, fourth year student and audio visual technician for the event said Green made him realize “the value of [my] education.”
“Hearing his firsthand account of how he fought to have his education makes my own mean so much more,” he said.
For Green, 72, the work is never done. He currently lives in Washington D.C., serves on the Board of Directors for Fisk University and the Board of Trustees for both Clark Atlanta University and Quality Education for Minorities Network.
The lecture, “On the Front Lines with the Little Rock Nine: a Conversation with Ernest Green,” was organized by the NAACP [Hofstra Chapter] to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Green says it was impossible to know the outcome when he took part in what became one of the most celebrated events in the Civil Rights Movement. As president of the Hofstra NAACP, Angelica Jackson wanted students to walk away from Green’s visit with “the realization that ‘hard’ wasn’t even the word for them [Little Rock Nine].”
“We worry about the boy who doesn’t like us because we have a pimple on our face,” Jackson said. “They had to be worried about people not liking them for the color of their skin.”