A Town Divided

By Daphne McKeefry

Underdogs of Little Rock

Their will for a difference in the wrongs of the world changes an entire community's views on segregation. The novel Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine is a story made to inspire. It starts with two best friends, Marlee is a thirteen year old girl who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas in the year 1958. Marlee has been quiet her whole life, she never speaks to classmates, teachers, or anyone besides family. The schools of Little Rock are segregated, and the high schools are closed as a result. With the arrival of Liz, everything changed. Liz is a new student at her school who acts different than anyone else she has known, and they quickly become good friends. Little did Marlee know, she was a lighter skinned African-American who was trying to pass as Caucasian for a better education. The two pair up for an oral presentation at school, and they bond as Liz teaches Marlee to speak her mind and how to speak in front of others. But when another student spots Liz holding the hand of a little African-American boy, her brother, things take a turn for the worst.

Liz’s ethnicity came to snowball into a cluster of issues. She was never seen at Marlee’s school again. And once Marlee’s parents decide to send her sister, Judy, to live with their grandmother so that she could attend school, she is alone more than ever. They decided to give their friendship another chance, a risky decision, although they both know it may cost their lives.

Every time they met, it became more dangerous for them. Unless they changed the way the town thought, they couldn't keep their friendship. There was an upcoming election in Little Rock for state education board members, there were six spots to fill with people either for or against integration. Marlee and her family, along with many others fought to get people elected who had better views on segregation, with a committee called STOP or Stop This Outrageous Purge. They battled another committee pushing segregation. After weeks of hard work, STOP won the election, and the high schools would be reopened and segregated. Although Liz and Marlee still wouldn’t go to the same school, their courage and indescribable friendship started an advance in the social laws of Little Rock. It may not be a lot, but it’s a really good place for a start.

What it takes to Change History

Liz Fullerton was courageous, far too courageous for her years. The author introduces Liz during the Civil Rights Movement, when she starts at a white school with the main character, Marlee. Liz is colored, but is so light skinned for an African-American that she tried to pass as white for a better education, as well as more respect. Southern citizens who were colored didn't have as many opportunities; the author states “For the first time I realized, not only were there no women among those scientists on TV, there weren't any Negroes either.” This was uncommon at the time and extremely dangerous; by doing this you could be putting yourself and your family in fatal danger. The education and respect Liz is given don’t last long, Liz’s ethnicity is discovered, and she may be expelled, but one thing remains. Liz and Marlee know that their friendship is too precious to waste, and they decide to stay in touch. In that time, people spotted race-mixing were headed to close to a death sentence. After they know the dangers are too large, Liz and Marlee knew they had to change Little Rock alone. The two convince everyone willing to elect education board members who favor integration, and just barely turn out victorious. They may not be able to go to the same school yet, but it’s a start, one that wouldn't be there if it weren't for one girl’s courage to affect others.

Evidence in and Between the Lines

Throughout the book, Lions of Little Rock, author Kristin Levin gives several facts to the reader to tell them what life was like in that time period. These examples include people of color were not allowed in the same schools as whites, but in the end this conflict is being resolved. The author also mentioned several times that African-Americans were not allowed at the same swimming pool as Caucasians, nor movie theaters or restaurants. This is explained on page 108, when Marlee surprises Liz at the colored movie theater. She says “I tried to tell myself that I didn't know everyone when I went to the white movie theater, either. And the popcorn smelled exactly the same. But it didn't work.”Although the time of slavery had been over for one hundred years at the time, there were still people who thought of African-Americans as that level. One character, Red, is especially racist. In the book the author says, “Red was watching a colored man who was cleaning up after the parade, sweeping trash in a pile. When he wasn't looking, Red walked through the pile, kicking the pile until bits of paper and bottle caps were strewn across the street again.” on page 152. For Christmas, the Nisbett children were allowed an airplane ride back home to Little Rock from their grandmother’s house, a rare once in a lifetime opportunity for most. On page 155, the Nisbett father says “Flight is one of the modern miracles.” In the mid twentieth century, flight was one of the most amazing advancements in technology, now millions use it for travel, and people are beginning to think of new ways to travel.



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