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Whispers From Little Rock Central

A lesson in reconciliation


APR 9, 2022


Everyday Faith

In 1957, in Little Rock, Arkansas, race was a divisive issue.

The question of whether or not schools should be integrated had become volatile.

Little Rock had decided they were going to integrate their schools — leading to protests and violence. For those first African American students who were going to go through with entering Central’s doors that fall, they had made a conscious choice that would daily endanger their lives.

Gov. Orval Faubus was adamantly opposed to the integration of schools and had requested the services of the National Guard to prevent it from happening.

As school opened, the National Guard surrounded the perimeter.

All of the African American families who had students attending met a block away from the school at a gas station. From there, they could see the masses of people protesting on both sides of the issue.

Under Faubus’ orders, the National Guard was there to keep the African American students out. And, with the dangerous view that lay ahead of them, the families decided not to go into the crowd; school was canceled for the day.

President Dwight Eisenhower was aware of the situation and was not going to have any part of Faubus’ actions, so he flew Gov. Faubus to the White House for a one-on-one scolding. The next day, the National Guardsmen stood in the same exact spot as they had the day before to guard the entrance to the school to ensure that the African American students were able to have access.

The African American families met at the same spot the next morning and proceeded to walk through the violent crowd that yelled profanities and pointed fingers in their faces. The Guard kept the masses back, and school had begun for the 10 students.

Prior to those students becoming a part of the high school, the principal of the school had sat down with each of the students and shared that the school would have a difficult time ensuring their personal safety. Because of the political nature of what they were going to be entering into, they had to be exemplary students and under no circumstances could they retaliate. They were told that the school board would not look favorably upon any retaliation, and they would end up expelled if they acted out.

Well, those students were harassed mercilessly in just about every way possible, and trying to keep their cool was a daily battle that had to be maintained.

But, one day, it simply got to be too much for one African American female student. She walked into the cafeteria for lunch, where they were serving chili. After getting through the hot lunch line, she looked for a place to sit down, and, as she set her tray down, she encountered harassment from the girls at the table where she was going to sit. As an act of frustration, she slammed her tray down on the table, and chili went all over the girl who had been harassing her.

Clearly, that was a public scene that was going to have public consequences.

Ultimately, that act ended with a meeting with the principal and expulsion from the high school — all over a bowl of chili.

Well, this isn’t really about the injustice of the event, but about what occurred later.

After years passed and the heated views of that moment would subside, posters of those two women were plastered all over Little Rock Central High School and the surrounding community — as friends — hosting a fundraiser together — the Little Rock Central High Chili cook off.

Those two women became the face of Central High’s best annual fundraiser.

What happened?

The female white student recognized that her actions were prejudiced and ill-founded. She was repeating what she had seen and had heard at that time. In reflection, she knew she needed to go to the African American student and ask for forgiveness.

And that’s exactly what she did!

Because of that, they were able to take a terrible situation that had divided their community and make it into a lighthearted fundraiser for the school, where everyone looked forward to sharing their cooking expertise together.

What a beautiful picture of reconciliation!

And that’s exactly what God seeks from each and every one of us.

It took a humble act from the female white student to go to the African American student. She recognized her wrongdoings, but she couldn’t make things right in and of herself. She needed to repent and ask for forgiveness.

God says in Romans 3: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Well, that’s the bad news!

But, in Romans 10, it says: “…whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

That’s the good news. But the beauty of the story goes even further.

There was a broken relationship that was not only mended, but then flourished because of the grace that was offered. And you know what? The entire community benefited because of the personal decisions they made!

May we have the humility and grace of Little Rock to walk our own days in a healthy relationship with God through the reconciliation he offers us.

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