The first days of school in the new year are “frightening” because, without Minnijean, members of the Little Rock Nine think that any of them could be suspended next. Melba withdraws from French class due to an inability to concentrate and she worries about her ability to perform in her other classes. Minnijean is allowed to return to school on January 13, “with the proviso that she not respond to her attackers in any way.” Shortly thereafter, a boy throws what looks like a bucket of soup on her. He is suspended, but the others worry about “an all-out soup war.”
Melba is so overwhelmed by fears of suspension that her worries interfere with her ability to do her schoolwork, even in the subject that she most enjoys. Thus, the segregationists have won a temporary victory over Minnijean, Melba, and the others, unsettling them enough to defeat one of their primary purposes in being at Central—that is, to gain access to the best education in the district.
The segregationists become more vocal. Two hundred “hard-core segregationist students” protest the presence of the Little Rock Nine by being absent from school and attending a rally held by the Mothers’ League, speaking on “What Race Mixers Are Planning for Us.” The segregationists also organize an effort to phone the Little Rock Nine’s homes at all hours to harass them with bomb threats and hoaxes. On the day of another pep rally, Mrs. Huckaby suggests that the girls stay in her office. The students also have more meetings with Daisy Bates and the NAACP to discuss their problems.
The Mothers’ League’s effort against the Little Rock Nine illustrates the important role that white women have played in preserving white supremacy, using their privilege and their selective notions about family values to justify racism. The Mothers’ League is a part of the concerted effort to get black students out of Central. Mrs. Huckaby’s office and Daisy Bates’s home are these students’ only safe spaces outside of their own homes.
Soon, Melba becomes depressed. When she starts to wish for death, Grandma India says that this would be just what the segregationists want. She gets Melba to find a project that she really likes to distract her from her troubles. She studies the Explorer, the satellite that put the U.S. in the space race. Grandma India reads about it, too, so that they can both talk about it for hours.
Studying about the space race improves Melba’s attitude toward life, for it is a reminder of humanity’s progress, while her life at Central is exemplary of its backwardness. It also reminds her that world is much bigger than what is happening to her now in Little Rock.
Mother Lois suggests that Melba extend Vince a standing invitation to come to Sunday supper. He agrees and comes by, even on days when she does not want him to. Each day, Grandma India and Melba pray for Minnijean’s strength. On Thursday, February 6, Minnijean is attacked again by the boy who dumped soup on her and a “ruckus” ensues. Her attackers accuse her of retaliation, including calling someone “white trash.” When she is sent home without a suspension notice, Melba is relieved. Then, Mrs. Huckaby gives Carlotta an envelope to take to Minnijean which contains an expulsion notice. Minnijean gives an interview with the Arkansas Democrat explaining the pressure she was under at Central and her isolation. Thurgood Marshall says in the article that he does not know how much more mistreatment the students can take.
Mother Lois’s idea to get Vince, someone who’s company Melba appreciates, to come over every weekend is an attempt to keep Melba’s spirits up so that she will not suffer a fate similar to Minnijean’s. None of Melba’s old friends are willing to visit her, so she relies on Vince for a sense of normalcy and a reminder of life before Central, despite the growing differences between them. Unlike Melba, Minnijean did not see herself as a lone “warrior” but desperately tried to fit in at Central, only to be disappointed. Melba’s warrior stance has kept her strong and may have also protected her from disciplinary action.
One morning before school, a boy throws raw eggs on Melba. She returns home to clean up. Melba is embarrassed and Grandma India suggests introducing mind games—that is, smiling and being polite when she is abused to help defeat the segregationists’ purpose of making her an unhappy victim. Melba tries this immediately when two boys try to prevent her from pulling open a classroom door. She thanks them for helping her get exercise. They look at each other, puzzled by her response.
Melba is humiliated at school but decides to employ her grandmother’s advice in letting her harassers think that she cannot be humiliated. The tactic has the added benefit of throwing Melba’s harassers off-balance.
On Valentine’s Day, it snows and members of the Little Rock Nine are pelted with snowballs filled with rocks. Elizabeth Eckford’s father rushes out of his car to rescue them and he also gets hit. When Melba arrives home, Grandma India presents her with a Valentine’s Day card from Vince whom Melba thinks less about due to her preoccupation with integration.
Mr. Eckford’s failed attempt to help the children further highlights the helplessness of even the children’s parents to shield them from abuse. The card from Vince should be a welcome distraction, but Melba has forgotten all about romance in her effort to survive daily life at Central.
Minnijean is officially expelled after a forty-minute hearing. NAACP officials arrange for her to attend a private New York high school called New Lincoln and to stay with the family of the renowned psychologist Kenneth Clark. Melba knows that she will miss Minnijean, but she is also a bit jealous of her ability to escape. On the other hand, the segregationists are wild with excitement for sending Minnijean north. A news article confirms that the National Guardsmen would stop all hall patrols but would remain in the building for “periodic checks.” Melba writes in her diary about the daily abuse that she suffers from emboldened segregationists, including being spat on and slapped by a girl, having a boy named Andy hold a wrench up to Melba’s face and make threats, and being hit with a tennis racket. Melba thinks that “only the warrior” exists in her now and “Melba went away to hide.”
Minnijean’s expulsion from Central is, in Melba’s view, somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Minnijean will have the benefit of going to New York—a city that Melba has long wanted to visit, and of going to a school where she will potentially meet new friends instead of harassers. Meanwhile, Melba continues to face threats of mortal harm. To remain committed to her “promise to God” as well as her wish for things to be different in Little Rock, Melba hides her true self—that is, she disguises her fears and her wish for a life similar to what Minnijean will enjoy—so that she can stay in Arkansas and continue to fight for desegregation there.
By the beginning of March, Melba has sunk into a state of hopelessness. One day, while at school, she is jolted out of her melancholy by the voice of Andy, calling from a block away with a group of his friends. Another boy suddenly speaks to her. He has a head full of bushy blond curls and leans against a 1949 Chevy parked at the curb. He tells her that she needs to escape quickly. He devises a plan. He says that he will join in with the segregationists in taunting her and, when he does, he will put his keys on the trunk of his car for her to take, then to drive away. He says that his name is Link and that he will call her later. Melba does what he says. Though Andy claws at the locked door and runs alongside the car, she gets away.
Link appears in Melba’s life as a literal lifesaver, for Andy has made two threats against Melba’s life and, as Link now warns, is intent on killing her. In this instance, Andy approaches with a mob of his friends. Though Melba is worried about Andy’s threats, they remind her that she does, indeed, want to live. She retains the will to fight against her attackers and to stay at Central.