I was 9 years old, a black girl going to integrated schools in Sacramento when Little Rock exploded. My family closely followed the events. But the book, by Melba Beals, one of the nine black students who integrated Central High, taught me how little I knew. I was stunned - as shocked as the teenagers who read the book with me at what those students endured.
The first day of classes in 1957 a black girl arrived alone to face Arkansas National Guardsman who surrounded the school. As she tried to pass between them, the guardsmen closed ranks. She moved down the line and was blocked again - and again. A mob followed, screaming obscenities until the terrified girl retreated in tears.
Despite that beginning, the black students returned. President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to protect them. Soldiers accompanied the black students between classes but not into bathrooms. Beals describes being locked in a bathroom stall as white students threw flaming bits of toilet paper down on her.
The students who read the book with me are the beneficiaries of that struggle. Their school has to be one on the most diverse spots on the planet. What those nine warriors at Central High fought for half a century ago endures at Kennedy High School today.
Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.