Warriors Don’t Cry


Melba Beals

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Warriors Don’t Cry Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Melba Beals's Warriors Don’t Cry. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Melba Beals

Melba Pattillo Beals was born on Pearl Harbor Day—the day that the Japanese attacked a US naval base in Hawaii, thereby launching the United States into World War II—to Lois and Howell Pattillo. Beals was her parents’ first born, but they also had a son, named Conrad. Lois was an educated and ambitious woman who was among the first black students at the University of Arkansas. During Beals’s childhood, Lois worked as an English teacher and would later earn a Master’s degree. Howell was a worker on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Beals’s parents divorced when she was seven. Beals entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in September 1957 as part of the Little Rock Nine—the first African American students to attend Central in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that ended segregation in American public schools. Due to Governor Orval Faubus’s closing of all Little Rock schools in 1958 to halt integration, Beals was relocated with the help of the NAACP. She moved into the home of Dr. George McCabe, a professor at San Francisco State University, and finished high school in Northern California. In 1962, Beals enrolled at San Francisco State University for two years, then left to marry John Beals, a martial-arts expert. The couple had one child, Kellie, then divorced after seven years. Beals pursued a career in journalism and worked as a news reporter for an NBC affiliate in San Francisco. She was also the host of a radio news talk show for ABC. She has written articles for numerous publications. While working as a journalist, she simultaneously ran her own public relations firm and, in 1990, published her first book on self-promotion entitled Expose Yourself. In 1999, Beals joined the faculty of Dominican University in California and founded its Department of Communications and Media Studies. In the same year, she and other members of the Little Rock Nine received the Congressional Gold Medal for their contributions to integration and civil rights. She continues to write and work as a public speaker.
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Historical Context of Warriors Don’t Cry

Central High School was among the first Southern public schools to be integrated. Arkansas was more progressive than other Southern states in its compliance with integration. The University of Arkansas’s Schools of Law and Medicine were integrated in 1948 and schools in Hoxie, Arkansas were integrated in 1955. A year before, the small towns of Charleston and Fayetteville integrated their public schools. The responses of some Arkansan school boards were swift in response to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and its follow-up Brown v. Board II decision in 1955, which sought the integration of public schools “with all deliberate speed.” In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges enrolled at the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans during what has been called the “desegregation crisis of 1960.” The integration of public schools was a major step for black people in securing the right to equal treatment under the law, though the Civil Rights Act would not be passed until 1964, officially ending segregation in public places and banning employers from discriminating on the basis of race. In instances in which Melba’s family wants to distract her from the pressures of integration, they follow the news about the “space race” between the US and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957.

Other Books Related to Warriors Don’t Cry

Over the last fifty years, several memoirs and historical accounts have been written about the integration of Central High School. Daisy Bates published the first memoir about the Little Rock Nine in 1962, The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir, which included a foreword by Eleanor Roosevelt. In 2009, Carlotta Walls LaNier also published a memoir about her experiences at Little Rock, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, co-written with Lisa Frazier Page. In 2011, the journalist David Margolick published Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, which tells the dual stories of Elizabeth Eckford’s harrowing experience at Central High and the trauma she suffered afterward, as well as the story of Hazel Bryan (one of Eckford’s tormentors, famously captured in a photograph) seeking redemption for her racism. In the United States in the early- to mid-1990s, there was a surge of interest in publishing books about the Civil Rights Movement and about black people’s experiences under Jim Crow. As a result, many black American writers enjoyed more fame and acclaim in the nineties: Maya Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in January 1993, and Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the same year. From the 1970s forward, Black women’s personal histories were dominant in African-American literature; particularly notable is the persistent popularity of Maya Angelou’s memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In 1996, the scholar bell hooks wrote a memoir about growing up under Jim Crow, titled Bone Black: Memories of a Girlhood.
Key Facts about Warriors Don’t Cry
  • Full Title: Warriors Don’t Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High School
  • When Written: 1957-1994. The account is based on diaries that Beals kept while at Central High, as well as press clippings that she and her family collected.
  • Where Written: Little Rock, Arkansas and San Francisco, California
  • When Published: 1994
  • Literary Period: 20th-century African-American Literature
  • Genre: Nonfiction; Memoir
  • Setting: Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Climax: Melba tries to enter Central High School and is confronted by violent segregationists. She watches while Elizabeth Eckford, another member of the Little Rock Nine, faces the huge, angry crowd alone.
  • Antagonist: Little Rock segregationists; racism
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for Warriors Don’t Cry

Johnny Mathis. Beals notes that in August of 1957, Johnny Mathis, a popular African-American singer in the 1950s, had his first hit with “Chances Are.” Mathis, along with Nat King Cole, is one of the singers from the era whom Beals admires. Two years later, Mathis performed on Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, a variety show. He and Boone, a white man, sang “Peace on Earth” side-by-side on the air, at Boone’s insistence, despite the threat of opposition from Southern Chevrolet sponsors.

Bill Clinton and Hope, Arkansas. Beals went back to Central High in 1987 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the school’s desegregation. Arkansas Governor and future President Bill Clinton, whom she refers to as “Billy Clinton,” was there to greet her and the other members of the Little Rock Nine. Clinton is a native of Hope, Arkansas where, in June 1958, Judge Harry J. Lemley issued a judgment in the Aaron v. Cooper case allowing for a temporary end to integration at Central High. His decision was later overturned by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.