At the end of her junior year at Central High School, Melba Pattillo was numb.
"It didn't matter anymore," she said. "I was past feeling" (source).
She had survived the year by taking the advice of one of the U.S. paratroopers assigned to protect her. "You will have to become a soldier," he told her. "Never let your enemy know what you are feeling" (source).
Pattillo succeeded, but at a cost. After the last day of school, Pattillo "came home, and, by myself, I walked to the backyard, and I burned my books. And I burned everything that I could burn. And I just stood there crying, looking into the fire, and wondering whether I would go back, but not wanting to go back" (source).
The decision was made for her when she found out there was a bounty on her head. "The local white citizens' council offered $10,000 for me dead; $5,000 alive. As a result, I was rushed to the airport by my family and ushered onto a plane bound for California" (source).
Pattillo finished high school in Santa Rosa, living with a white family who belonged to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) . It was there she came to realize just how much Blacks and whites had in common. Describing the Little Rock Nine, she said, "All our folks were hardworking people who had struggled to own their homes, to provide a stable life for their families. We share many of the same family values traditional to all small-town Americans" (source).
She also realized that everyone had to stand up for his or her rights. "Each of us as an individual in this world must claim our own equal rights. Nobody's giving them out," she said years after Little Rock. "If we had waited for the people in Little Rock to say, 'Y'all come. Come on to Central High School. We want to welcome you,' we'd have been waiting until now" (source).
In 1999 Pattillo was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton. Ten years later, at age 67, she earned a doctorate in education, and, along with most of the other Nine, was invited to watch Barack Obama being sworn in as President of the United States.