Starting at a new school won't be so bad if some of your best friends go with you, right?
"I really thought that if we went to school together, the white kids are going to be like me, curious and thoughtful, and we can just cut all this segregation stuff out," Minnijean Brown recalled (source).
Instead, she was turned away from Central High School by National Guard troops and threatened by onlookers. "I remember feeling very scared," she said. "And people were screaming obscenities, […] 'Go back to Africa' and 'Integration is Communism,' and all kinds of crazy stuff like that. I was totally shocked" (source).
But nobody puts Minnijean in a corner.
Brown got over her initial shock and tried to make the most of her junior year. "I guess you could say I was a troublemaker, because I tried to say that I should be in the Christmas program, even though we were told we couldn't participate in any activities. […] That was considered trouble. We were supposed to know our place and act appropriately" (source).
Perhaps because she was more outspoken than her classmates, Brown seemed to be a particular target. In December 1957 she was suspended for six days for dumping a bowl of chili on the head of a white student who'd been harassing her in the cafeteria. In February she was expelled for calling another abusive student "white trash."
"I just can't take everything they throw at me without fighting back," she remembered. "They throw rocks, they spill ink on your clothes, they call you 'n*****.' […] The white students hate me. Why do they hate me so much?" (source).
Brown was the only member of the Little Rock Nine who didn't finish the year at Central. After her expulsion, she was offered a scholarship to the New Lincoln School, a progressive private school in Manhattan. Brown moved to New York and lived with an African-American couple who had pioneered psychological studies of racial identity.
She was grateful that her new classmates "allowed me to be the girl that I should have been, and allowed me to do all the things I thought I might do at Central" (source). But a sense of failure for being expelled haunted her for many years.
Still, Brown never regretted her decision to go Central. "We had to let everyone know that we were not going to live these isolated and segregated lives," she said. "It wasn't pleasant, but it had to be done" (source).
Brown dedicated her life to social activism. She's been an advocate for the First Nations people in Canada and was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Workforce Diversity by President Bill Clinton, who also awarded Brown the Congressional Gold Medal. One of her greatest honors, she told Smithsonian magazine, was speaking at an event honoring Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was nearly killed by the Taliban for going to school.
She could definitely relate.