Minnijean Brown-Trickey never expected to encounter the hate and discrimination she faced when she entered a traditionally white high school.
During the summer of 1957, officials in Little Rock decided to begin the process of desegregating the city’s public schools. The school board selected nine African-American teenagers, who would go on to be known as the Little Rock Nine, to enroll at Central High School that fall.
Brown-Trickey, one of those students, spoke Monday at MU’s Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center as part of the center’s Black Culture Awareness Week. She was the first of the African-American students to get expelled from Central High after retaliating against torment from white students and the administration.
Though the experience was unpleasant, Brown-Trickey said she does not have negative feelings about the students as a whole.
“I know all those kids didn’t hate me,” she said. “There were 1,900 silent witnesses. I would have wanted for them not to be silenced.
“Even the white kids who wanted to be nice to us were punished like we were,” she said, noting that white students were often physically or verbally hurt if they expressed sympathy for the black students.
Over the years, Brown-Trickey has developed a positive outlook about civil rights progress.
“Something like Little Rock, you almost need 50 years to think about it, to think about it personally,” she said. “You have to put it in your body in a way that’s not doing harm to take something positive from it.”
Brown-Trickey has held lectures at many colleges, especially this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The Supreme Court decision aimed to end segregation in public schools.
She said she tries to show how the Supreme Court decision relates to current and future civil rights issues.
“Civil rights are for everybody,” she said. “The civil rights movement benefited everybody. It revitalized the women’s movement. It kind of spawned the American Indian movement. It really shifted our society in a very important way.”
After her experience at Central High, Brown-Trickey continued working for civil rights. She participated in sit-ins and trained her brother to practice nonviolent tactics as well.
Brown-Trickey moved to Canada with her husband in 1967 and lived there for 32 years, working on international peace initiatives. She now has returned to Little Rock to take care of her mother.
MU sophomore Marquetta Lakine said she attended the lecture to hear about Brown-Trickey’s experiences after her time at Central High.
“I’m interested in how it affected her and how she raised her kids,” she said. “How did it affect her in the long run?”
Other students were simply encouraged by her civil rights advocacy.
“I wanted to support the Black Culture Center and their events with Black Culture Awareness Week — and I wanted to hear her and support her cause,” said sophomore Bianca Tillard-Gates.
While the negative memories of Central High have stayed with her over the years, Brown-Trickey said she is hopeful about the present conditions of Little Rock and the city’s future.
“We have to keep doing things,” she said. “There’s plenty to do. It’s forever.”