Melba becomes so overwhelmed with the task of keeping herself safe that she falls ill. It appears to be flu, but she thinks it is sadness. Still, Melba forces herself to attend school the next day to participate in a talk with segregationist student leaders, organized by the Norwegian reporter, Mrs. Jorumn Rickets. Ernie, Minnijean, and Melba sit down with Sammy Dean Parker, who was in the newspaper hugging Governor Faubus, thanking him for keeping the Little Rock Nine out of school, and two other students. While Ernie insists that all they want is an education, the white students raise fears of intermarriage and being overtaken by black people. Later, in an interview with The New York Times, Parker says that she thinks that the Little Rock Nine also do not want to go to school with them but are being paid by the NAACP, a comment which strikes Melba as absurd.
Melba’s illness is likely due to stress. She attends the roundtable with the hope that it can help the white students to understand why the black students want to attend Central, but the meeting only seems to result in more misunderstanding. The white students, particularly Parker, do not use the meeting as an opportunity to listen but instead to reassert the racist talking points they have learned at home. The integration of Central is, for them, not the simple effort of black students to attend school, but a plot to overtake the white students, which Parker attributes to the NAACP’s meddling.
An announcement in the newspaper reads that half of the 101st will return to their base in Kentucky. Melba realizes that she can only depend on herself for protection and adopts the attitude of a warrior. She keeps her muscles “steely” in response to abuse and strains her mind to focus. By mid-October, there are very few 101st soldiers and few national guardsmen.
Mrs. Huckaby tells the students to notify their parents of an upcoming meeting with School Superintendent Virgil Blossom. At the meeting, Blossom does not address any of the students’ or parents’ concerns but tells the students not to respond to their attackers. When Mother Lois asks if he has “any specific plans” to protect the children, Blossom rudely tells her that it is none of her business and ignores her while he continues to make “his meaningless comments.” Mother Lois is angry and embarrassed but finally takes her seat. It upsets Melba to see her mother disrespected and it bothers her that the others, especially the black men present, do not stand up to defend her.
The meeting with Blossom is exemplary of how institutional racism operates. Blossom has the power to protect the Little Rock Nine but does nothing to address racism both due to his personal bias and due to possible pressure from racists on the schoolboard. The unwillingness of black men in the room to stand up to Lois frustrates Melba but is unsurprising, given both the futility of such a display and the possible threat of violence that black men face in the South when they assert themselves in opposition to white men.
Minnijean Brown goes to Melba’s house in November to show a picture of Melba in Life magazine. The two of them also appear in other publications. Minnijean is becoming deeply affected by her ostracism and comes to believe that she can convince the white students to like her if they hear how beautifully she sings. She commits to finding an opportunity to sing onstage in a school program, despite the Mothers’ League’s plan to exclude her. The other students have also changed. Melba notices that they are more solemn and withdrawn.
The Little Rock Nine struggle to adapt to their ostracism, despite their wish to belong. Minnijean’s attempt to join the Christmas program is based on the belief that, if she makes the first effort, the white students will accept her. Perhaps she believes that, if the national media deems them worthy of positive attention, eventually the students at Central will, too.
Melba is surprised when she is invited to give a speech to students who attend chapel services. The chapel is “a fairly safe corner of the school.” Grandma India eases her fears that the students will throw things, for, at the very least, they “aren’t heathens.” When Melba speaks, she insists, they will know that they all worship the same Lord.
This is the first instance in which Melba is invited to address some of the white students at Central. Though some of them may be committed to segregation, she hopes that their equal commitment to Christianity will encourage them to listen to her.
For Thanksgiving, the Pattillo family has a tradition of sorting through their things and giving up things they do not need or use, as well as two things very dear to them. Grandma India asks Conrad to give up his train, which he insists on keeping, and uses Melba’s example of giving up “her favorite blouse” to encourage him. He responds by saying that “Melba likes suffering and doing without,” which is why she attends Central. He heard this from his friend, Clark, who repeated it from his parents. Grandma India says that Melba is at the school because she made a promise to God that she intends to keep. She also says that if Conrad does not “ante up,” he will not get any Thanksgiving dinner and no one will play Monopoly with him for a week. He lets go of his train’s engine to put in the gift box.
The assumption from Clark’s parents mirrors the comment Sammy Dean Parker made to The New York Times. Both suggest that the Little Rock Nine somehow like what they are enduring at Central. Though Melba does not record her reaction to what Conrad repeats, the comment must be rather hurtful. Melba depends on the black community for moral support and understanding, while the comment from Clark’s parents demonstrates total misunderstanding and a lack of empathy—a position that her brother, however naively, is also supporting.
According to the Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock authorities’ agreement to maintain order allows for a deal with the federal government not to prosecute segregationists. Minnijean remains focused on trying to perform in the Christmas show. When Minnijean tries to register, Mrs. Huckaby lies and says that tryouts have passed. Minnijean is wounded, for the school officials had not been “sincere about offering Minnijean the opportunity” and, therefore, were not clear about the terms of participating. Melba and Thelma try their best to console her.
Melba is annoyed with Mrs. Huckaby and the other school officials—not for excluding Minnijean, which they all figured would occur in one way or another, but for letting Minnijean think that there was real hope that she could join the show. The attempt to spare Minnijean’s feelings is, in a way, worse, for it only fed her hope that she would be included.
On Monday, November 25, Melba prepares to speak to 250 students gathered for Central High’s early morning chapel service. At first, she garbles some of the words then speaks calmly. The students are impressed and a couple approach her afterward to congratulate her and to ask where she got her “Northern accent.” Mother Lois is pleased to hear this and tells Melba to tell the students that her mother is an English teacher and that they only speak the King’s English in their home. Melba confirms that there were no “flying objects,” as she had originally feared, and that, during the service, she felt that the students shared a love of the Lord in common. Grandma India insists that, someday, the white students will have the courage to be nice outside of the chapel. Melba does not think so, but her grandmother is sure that things will not always be as they are presently.
Grandma India is basing her hope on her personal wisdom as well as the fact that the white students share enough in common with Melba to identify with her but are too preoccupied with maintaining segregation to notice. Their interest in Melba’s speech is a compliment to her eloquence, but is also possibly based on the expectation, nourished by racist stereotypes, that black people would speak an inferior form of English. She demonstrates her respectability by presenting her best self, which works in this instance to combat her audience’s possibly negative expectations.
The Little Rock Nine gather at Daisy Bates’ house for an “official” Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday evening. There is a news conference. Mrs. Bates asks if the students want “white meat or dark meat” and, speaking without thinking, Melba says that it is “an integrated turkey.” Mrs. Bates and Mother Lois get an annoyed expression on their faces and the reporters snicker. While driving home, Mother Lois tells Melba that she will regret her statement.
Melba makes a bad joke that, unfortunately, is printed in a newspaper. She realizes that her visibility means that she cannot afford to speak so carelessly. Otherwise, the remark is an attempt to find levity, after months of somber meetings to help the students to integrate Central successfully.
The day before Thanksgiving break, Danny breaks the rules by coming up close to Melba and telling her to take care of herself and be careful. She realizes that he will soon leave her, though he will neither confirm or deny it. On Thanksgiving Day, she experiences feelings of “peace and joy,” but reads a headline in the Gazette confirming her fear: the last of 225 GIs will leave the school. When Melba returns to Central on December 2, someone asks if “all niggers eat integrated turkeys,” then puts his foot out to trip her. She steps hard on his foot, pretending it is a mistake. Other students mock her careless statement. The only thing that keeps Melba going is the promise of Christmas break.
Melba was careless with her quip at Daisy Bates’s home, but is less careless than before when confronted by harassers. Her knowledge that Danny is leaving, coupled with a less pleasant than normal Thanksgiving, makes Melba look forward to Christmas—hoping that at least one holiday will not be spoiled by the integration of Central High. The integration has infiltrated every aspect of her life, even making her unable to enjoy cherished holidays.