When Melba arrives home, her life changes immediately. She notices that plans for integration “[consume] the energy of the entire city.” No one in Little Rock seems to talk about anything else. Melba starts attending a series of meetings with officials in Little Rock’s education system and in the NAACP. She meets Daisy Bates for the first time, a woman who strikes Melba as “very calm and brave” despite threats against her life and her home from segregationists. The only good thing about the meetings is that they give Melba a chance to reunite with her friends. Though there were originally seventeen participants in the integration of Central, some of them drop out due to threats of violence. In the end, there are nine students, all of whom Melba already knows.
Daisy Bates becomes a mainstay in Melba’s life and a role model, given Mrs. Bates’s own experiences with defending herself against white supremacists. Despite the seriousness and formality of the process of joining Central, Melba focuses, like a typical teenager, on how she will get to spend more time with her friends. This mindset also gives her comfort, reminding her that she will not be alone at Central. Her relief at spending more time with her friends contrasts with the danger that further isolates her, leaving her with only eight allies instead of the original sixteen.
The other students include Ernest Green, the eldest, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba’s “special friend” Minnijean Brown, Carlotta Walls, and Gloria Ray. They all come from strict families whose parents hold “well-established positions” and work hard to create stable lives for their families. They share the traditional values of many “small-town Americans.” They are all church-going and work hard in school. None of them have much money, but they all take great pride in their appearances. They are also individualists with strong opinions, and all of them want to go to college.
The Little Rock Nine come from families that are very similar to many other American families. However, the burdens imposed on them by racism make them more conscious of how others perceive them, which is why they are careful about their appearances. Melba and the other students come from families that emphasize respectability. Jim Crow has relegated them to a second-class status, but they do not accept that they are second-class.
On Labor Day, Melba gathers with the rest of the family at her Auntie Mae’s house “for the last picnic of the summer.” Mae is very similar to Melba and the family often says that Melba inherited her aunt’s “feisty ways.” Though Melba’s Uncle Charlie says that he does not know why Melba would want to go where she is not wanted, her aunt insists that Melba is just the right person to integrate Central High.
Mae is another example of a strong, independent woman in Melba’s family. The men, such as her father and her Uncle Charlie, seem more likely to content themselves with the status quo and remain in relative peace, while the women challenge it.
The family learns that Governor Faubus will send the Arkansas National Guard to the school—not to act “as segregationists or integrationists,” but to carry out assigned duties. He goes on to say that it may not be possible to control the outbreak of violence that can result from “forcible integration.” On the night of the governor’s announcement, the Beals family get a series of calls, one of which is a bomb threat. Grandma India decides to keep watch overnight with her shotgun, which she nicknames “Mr. Higgenbottom.” Melba begins to wonder if attending Central is a good idea and starts thinking again about trying to move to Cincinnati instead.
Melba underestimated the magnitude of the task she is performing and is overwhelmed by the response to her future presence at Central. The integration requires a control of violence both at school and at home, upsetting the relative peace and safety Melba had previously known. She wants to escape to Cincinnati where life is easier and where she thinks the work of integration has already been completed.
The NAACP calls to let Melba and the other members of the Little Rock Nine know that they should not go to Central until they are notified. During a meeting, School Superintendent Virgil Blossom says that parents should not go to school with the children, for it would be easier to protect the teens without the adults present. Federal judge Ronald Davies rules that integration at Central will begin on Wednesday. Daisy Bates calls to tell the children where to meet and that, perhaps, they “would be accompanied by several ministers,” some of them white.
Going to Central is unlike any other first day of school, given the level of planning and the inability of the teenagers to enter the school alone, as they normally would. The presence of the white ministers is to ensure that the black students will not encounter violence. White protestors, even violent ones, would be less likely to assault a white clergyman in his church garb.
On the morning before Melba’s first day at school, the family sits down for breakfast and Grandma India leads a prayer. Mother Lois reminds Melba that she does not have to integrate Central and wonders if Melba will regret what may have been a “hasty decision.” Suddenly, the phone rings. Mother Lois answers it and announces that it is time to go.
Though Mother Lois is allowing Melba to integrate Central and agrees with the principle behind Melba’s actions, she is fearful for the danger that her daughter will encounter—a danger that she thinks Melba has underestimated.