The family decides to talk to the newspapers to let them know how the segregationists are willing to deprive the Pattillo family of food and a home. During the last few days of April, Mother Lois goes to North Little Rock to plead for her job, only to be met with refusals. Meanwhile, the family is running out of money and cannot pay bills. An administrator calls her into his office and offers her a transfer to Oklahoma as her only option. He also mentions that, if Melba withdraws from school, they could talk about renewing her contract and giving her “a handsome salary increase.” Mother Lois is certain that he is being pressured by his bosses on North Little Rock’s all-white schoolboard who are fighting integration in the district. Walking away from his office, Mother Lois remembers Link’s warning about something bad happening to the whole family.
The family uses the only power they have—the attention of the press—to fight back against those who try to pressure Melba into leaving school by depriving her mother of work. The administrator’s attempt to bribe Lois with “a handsome salary increase” is another form of pressure, and one that is likelier to work given her family’s need. Mother Lois feels the weight of white supremacy’s institutional power: if local whites cannot physically intimidate or psychologically torment Melba into leaving, they will deprive the family of their only source of income.
At the end of the year, yearbooks are passed out and Central students make “fancy plans” for the end of the school year, but the black students are excluded. Melba is also excluded from graduation events at her own school which bothers her initially until she realizes that they may have simply forgotten about the Little Rock Nine due to their no longer being present.
The Little Rock Nine are isolated by both the black and white students who do not see them as part of their respective social groups. Melba gives her former classmates at Horace Mann the benefit of the doubt, ignoring how her political activity has estranged her.
Over the next few days, Melba is anxious for the news story about Mother Lois’s job loss to be printed. Finally, the story makes it to a newspaper and calls of support come in. At Central, some of the students mock Melba for her mother’s job loss. The segregationists also plan to prevent Ernest Green, a senior, from completing school at Central and attending the graduation ceremony. The tension at school increases and there are fewer Arkansas National Guard troops around, though Melba never feels protected by them anyway.
Melba feels more vulnerable due to her mother’s job loss, as well as the potential danger that may await her at the commencement ceremony. As the students approach the end of the year, pressure mounts to try to ensure that the black students do not complete a full year. Furthermore, the absence of the troops—even as a symbolic presence—makes Melba feel more alone.
One day, Bishop O.J. Sherman, a powerful black clergyman, tells Mother Lois to go back to the administrator and say that the bishop would like her to have her job back. The administrator acknowledges Mother Lois’s efforts to get her job back, including riling up bishops from the black community. The next day, he enters her classroom and congratulates her on her “fine teaching abilities.” He reinstates her contract, and the family prays and thanks God for not forgetting them.
The administrator reinstates Mother Lois out of fear of Bishop Sherman’s power to mobilize his congregation into protesting against the school district. Recent lessons from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as well as the NAACP’s active presence in Little Rock, remind him of how the black church and black political organizations could lead to further civil rights action.
One day, Andy threatens her with a switchblade while a soldier in the National Guard looks on and issues a faint reprimand. Melba misses Danny. Andy has started chasing her from the gym to the dark hallway connected to it. Melba decides to walk a different way from gym class to elude him. Meanwhile, the segregationists insist on not letting Ernest Green graduate and Melba begins to worry for his safety. Grandma India decides to distract her with hard work, including washing the dishes and studying for her final exams.
Melba’s situation at school grows more serious. Andy, her primary tormenter, is getting bolder, and she has no one to rely on for protection. Grandma India tries to protect Melba from her negative thoughts by keeping her mind occupied, following the proverb, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
Melba’s last day at Central feels like any other day. Early on Wednesday morning, she builds a fire in the metal trash barrel in her yard and burns her school papers. She follows Grandma India’s advice and writes and destroys the names of people at Central whom she dislikes. Grandma India also tells her that, one day, she will be grateful for the courage that the experience has given her, but Melba wonders how long she will have to wait for that feeling of gratitude.
Melba performs the ritual act of burning names to send away evil so that she will not carry hatred from the difficult school year with her. Still reeling from all that has happened, Melba cannot yet see the ways in which her experience has already changed her and how it will benefit her in the future.
Mother Lois announces that none of the black students will be allowed to attend Ernest’s graduation so that the authorities can more easily protect Ernest and his family if they need to. Ernest Green becomes the first black student to graduate from Central on May 27. The audience applauds all of the students, except for Ernest. When he walks across stage, they fall silent. The newspapers report that Ernest’s diploma cost half a million dollars in tax funds, but Melba knows that it cost the Little Rock Nine their “innocence and a precious year of [their] teenage lives.”
Ernest’s graduation is a triumph, though the media irresponsibly overlooks Ernest’s daily burden and personal sacrifice to focus, instead, on the temporary tax burden imposed on tax payers. The silent reaction to his walk across stage is somehow worse than jeers and flying objects, for the reaction implies that Ernest is not present at all.
Link calls and says that Nana Healey died on the day of his graduation. He then asks Melba to move with him to Massachusetts, where he will attend college. Melba insists that she must stay and go back to Central. They wave good-bye and she knows that they will never see each other again.
Link’s loss of Nana Healey triggers a desire to care for Melba to ensure that she is never abused in the way that his nanny was. Melba, however, opts to exercise her power to resist what Nana Healey could not.
On May 29, eight members of the Little Rock Nine, not including Minnijean, go to Chicago to get an award conferred by the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper. In New York, they stay in suites at luxurious hotels and meet celebrities. In Cleveland, they receive the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal.
The eight students reap some rewards for their willingness to suffer to ensure black progress and, ultimately, the nation’s progress. The time away from Little Rock is a reprieve from abuse. It also reminds them that their effort is important and appreciated.
On June 22, Judge Lemley grants Little Rock’s request to halt integration, delaying it for another three and a half years. The NAACP begins another round of appeals to get the remaining seven students back into Central. By 1958, they win their court battle, but Governor Faubus shuts down all of Little Rock’s high schools. The segregationists also start to put pressure on the black community, squeezing people financially by pushing them out of their jobs. During what would be Melba’s senior year, she waits for legislators, the NAACP, and Governor Faubus to resolve the entanglement surrounding the integration of Central.
Faubus’s closing of Little Rock’s schools is a final act of stubborn resistance. Though it ultimately fails, it is an extreme and rather self-defeating act to deprive all of the district’s children of an education simply to prevent black children from integrating a previously all-white school. Faubus’s actions also reflect his determination not to be bested by a black-led organization, out of possible concern of being humiliated in front of his racist constituency.
In the autumn, Grandma India gets leukemia and dies shortly after her diagnosis. Two of the seven remaining black families with a child at Central move out of Little Rock due to mounting pressure. NAACP officials send an announcement to chapters across the country to find families who will provide the remaining five students with safe harbor and the chance to finish school. Melba moves in with the McCabes of Santa Rosa, California. Dr. George McCabe is a professor at San Francisco State University. Melba describes them, a politically- conscious family of Quakers, as unconditionally loving. To this day, she calls them “Mom and Pop” and visits them frequently.
Melba loses her main source of support and advice. The death of Grandma India signals a new chapter in Melba’s life, one also marked by her departure from Little Rock. She finds an unlikely surrogate family among the McCabes. Their religious faith coupled with their political activism is similar to Melba’s own upbringing in a politically aware family. However, the McCabes—a white family—do not face the dangers that the Pattillos endured for political dissidence.
It is not until September 1960 that the NAACP succeeds in getting Central to integrate once again. Only two black students are permitted entry—Carlotta Walls and Jefferson Thomas, who graduate from the school. In 1962, Melba attends San Francisco State University where she integrates a previously all-white residence house.
One evening, Melba meets a brown-haired soldier “wearing olive-drab fatigues.” He reminds her of Danny. His name is John and he is a blind date for Melba’s roommate but soon returns to visit Melba. Six months later, the two marry. Mother Lois is skeptical of the marriage. The couple has one daughter, Kellie, but splits up after seven years due to John’s backward ideas about women’s roles and Melba’s ambitions to be a journalist. She continues to hear from Link until she announces that she is marrying someone white, which sparks his jealousy, given his own romantic interest in Melba. Melba never hears from him again but thinks of him as “one of those special gifts from God sent to ferry [her] over a rough spot in [her] life’s path.”
Melba and John break up due to her husband’s chauvinism, not his racism. This is the first instance in which Melba mentions the impact of sexism on her life and her resistance to that form of discrimination. Her choice to marry a white man conflicts with messages that she received growing up, particularly from Grandma India, that white men regard black women as sex objects, not partners. Grandma India delivers this message when she learns about Melba’s friendship with Link, perhaps having suspected a romantic interest.
Melba attends Columbia University’s School of Journalism and becomes a reporter working for an NBC affiliate in Northern California. She looks back on her experience at Little Rock as a formative one that gave her “courage and patience,” as Grandma India said it would. The experience also taught her that people are all interconnected.
Melba fulfills her teenage wish to become a reporter. The values that she learned at Central not only helped her to survive, but have also made her more empathetic to others’ suffering, a quality that makes her a better person and a better journalist.