Little Rock Times

By Jacquee Moran

One Race

Talking in school isn’t one of Marlee’s delights. Marlee and her family live in Little Rock, Arkansas, during 1958 to 1959. The characters in Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine are, Marlee Nisbett, the main character, and Judy her sister , David her brother, her Mom, her Dad and their maid, Betty Jean. Marlee’s friends are Sally, Liz, and JT, who go to the same school.

Marlee Nisbett is 13. She doesn’t like to talk to anyone outside her family. She loves math and she goes to West Side Junior High. Marlee’s father, believes in integration and works at Forest Heights Junior High. Marlee’s brother David goes to college, and he usually helps her when she gets in trouble. Marlee’s sister Judy goes to Central High School, and she is always the one to talk to. Betty Jean is the Nisbett’s maid and a great cook. Sally is Marlee’s “friend”. They have known each other since they were babies, Sally bosses Marlee around, and talks for her. Liz is Marlee’s soulmate. They spend every minute together, and complement each other. JT is a boy in Marlee’s school. Every girl likes him and so does Marlee, but he can sometimes change. When Marlee finds out that Liz is black it doesn’t change a thing about her perception of Liz. She really wants to make a way to contact Liz. But when Marlee’s dad says that she can no longer see Liz, she has to make a decision.

Race mixing was a problem in Little Rock, Arkansas. The governor had closed all the high schools because the government told him to integrate the schools. Marlee had just made her first real friend named Liz. They developed this friendship from working on their history project. One day in school Marlee heard a rumor that Liz is colored. She was passing for white to get a better education. She was upset that she wasn’t able to see the person that she had made a friendship with, and the girl that helped her talk in front of the class.They met every Tuesday afternoon at the rock crusher, and called each other on Saturdays. During that time JT’s brother, Red, was giving Marlee a hard time. She had to do something to save Liz. The election was coming up for new board members so they could open the schools. When integration organizations win Marlee and Liz are allowed to see each other again. The blacks can also go to school with whites but not many have chosen to yet!



Betty Jean is the Nisbett’s maid; she cooks, she cleans the house, and she washes and irons the laundry. She is black and married to Pastor George, and has one son Curtis. Throughout the book Betty Jean works, and creates a small friendship with Marlee. When only Betty Jean was at home and Marlee had a bad day. She was the only one to talk to and that made Marlee feel a lot better because Betty Jean was very nice. Betty Jean treats everyone the same because she believes that separation isn’t meant to be. In the whole book Betty Jean shows loyalty. For example on page 110 Marlee gets into trouble because she wanted to go to the Gem, a black theater, to see Liz, but Betty Jean saves her. “Mrs. Johnson,” a familiar voice said sharply, “what’s going on here?”We all turned and looked, There was Betty Jean, wearing a blue skirt and a white blouse. It was the first time I’d seen her without an apron. She looked real pretty. “This white girl has snuck into this theater and-” “I didn’t sneak in,” I told Betty Jean. “I paid for my ticket.” “She could be a member of the Mother’s League. A spy who-” Betty Jean laughed. “ She’s not a spy. She’s the daughter of the family I work for. She’s a good girl.” I was so grateful. Mrs. Johnson harrumphed. “Are you saying you’ll vouch for her?” “Yes,” said Betty Jean “I’ll vouch for her.”

Little Rock Nine

Blacks were always being accused of doing bad things that they did not do, in the first place. Usually a white had done the trouble and the police blamed it on the first black they saw. On page 123 the author writes about this. “Betty Jean had never mentioned a son before. That was another one of those unspoken rules: maids didn’t talk about themselves. “He’s been arrested.” Betty Jean looked like she was going to cry. “Arrested? For what?” “Egging Mrs. Jefferson’s house on Halloween.” She sobbed once, then took a sip of tea. “ He didn’t do it. I was making deviled eggs for a luncheon at church, and I asked him to go out and buy some- groceries and-” She choked down a sob again. Egging Mrs. Jefferson's house. I knew who had done that. And having to do JT’s homework wasn’t bad enough, now someone else had gotten into trouble too. “But if you explain to the police that-” Betty Jean shook her head. “A white woman gets her house egged and the police find a colored boy nearby, that’s all they need to know.”

Ku Klux Klan was killing blacks and white integration believers because they believed segregation was the right way to go. The Ku Klux Klan is a group of people in white robes and usually at night bomb black houses and white houses killing them and their family. On page 73 Marlee’s dad talks about the KKK involved with Marlee. “Daddy ran a hand through his hair. “Do you remember when I invited that colored minister, Pastor George, to come speak at our church?” I nodded “The next day there was a note tucked in with our paper. It said, you let your youngest walk to school tomorrow she won’t make it. It was signed, KKK.” “The Ku Klux Klan is in Little Rock?” Daddy nodded.”

The Little Rock Nine were nine blacks that entered into white high schools. They were mostly bullied but worked hard in school. The Little Rock Nine had a lot of pressure on them being the only blacks in white schools. On page 75 there is some information on the Little Rock Nine. “ ‘The Little Rock Nine weren’t much older than me.” Daddy sighed, but he didn’t answer. “I thought things settled down at Central once they called the soldiers in.” “Somewhat,” said Daddy. “At least that was the official story. But things were not ever pleasant for them there. Minnijean Brown got expelled.” She was the colored girl who’d dumped a bowl of soup on the boys who were picking on her. That was something Liz would do. “If they were still being harassed, why didn’t they complain?” Daddy shrugged. “Maybe they did and nothing was done. Maybe they thought if they showed any weakness, it would only get worse.”

Act 10 is a new law that all state employees must turn in a list of all the organizations they belong to. The Little Rock Council would look at what organizations you were in and if they didn’t like any of the ones you belonged to, they would fire you from whatever job you had. On page 197 the author tells you about it. “ ‘Anyway, everyone’s in a tizzy over Act 10,” David said. “What’s that?” asked Judy. “It’s a new law requiring all states employees to turn in a list of all the organizations they belong to. It has to be notarized and everything.” “So?” “So!”said David. “The governor and his friends are going to use those lists to fire anyone they suspect of being an integrationist.”