Mother Lois drives Melba to school. On their way, they see many of their neighbors standing outside on the sidewalk, which strikes Lois as strange, particularly when she waves and they do not wave back. Melba waves at her friends, Kathy and Ronda, but their disapproving glances match those of the adults. They are listening to the radio. Mother Lois parks the car at 7:55 AM when the announcer mentions the presence of a crowd.
Their black community is no more enthusiastic about the integration of Central than members of the white community. Their black neighbors are fearful of what could happen to them due to Melba’s non-conformity. Their “disapproving glances” foreshadow the social ostracism that Melba later experiences.
Melba sees large crowds of white people lining the curb, stretching for a distance of two blocks. There are young and old people, men and women, uniformed police officers and soldiers. All of their attention appears to be focused on “the center of the line of soldiers.” The onlookers are chanting angrily and yelling racial slurs. Mother Lois grabs Melba and yells above the uproar that they have to find the group. Some of the white people seem to be staring “anxiously” at Melba and her mother. When they reach of the hub of the activity, they see that Elizabeth Eckford is the focus of the crowd’s attention. Elizabeth stands alone, searching for the right place to enter the school. Her eyes are “hidden by dark glasses” and she stands “erect and proud,” despite the fear she must feel. Melba wants to help, but there is no way to wedge through the crowd. Finally, Elizabeth makes her way to a bench at a bus stop.
Elizabeth Eckford’s experience at Central has been committed to historical memory in a photograph. Melba’s recollection of the first day they attempt to go to school contextualizes the well-known image of Eckford entering Central High alone with a mob of white people behind her, screaming and berating her. While Melba and her mother seek out the other members of the Little Rock Nine, Eckford faces the crowd alone, foreshadowing the loneliness and ostracism that all of them will eventually face at Central. Eckford presents a confident exterior, just as Melba will later, betraying the hurt and fear that roil within her.
Though Melba and Mother Lois try to get through the angry crowd without attracting attention, a white man grabs Melba’s sleeve. She gets away from him when another man distracts his attention. Suddenly, another white man starts following them and Melba and her mother find themselves being chased by four men. Lois tosses the car keys at Melba and instructs her daughter to leave without her if necessary. Melba runs to the car while her mother steps out of her heels and walks briskly in her stocking feet. Another pursuer joins the group, this one carrying a rope. A man close to Melba swings at her with a tree branch but misses. Finally, her mother catches up to the car. Melba throws open the passenger door and speeds away.
Melba experiences her first violent confrontation with a mob—this one seemingly composed solely of white men—as a result of trying to attend Central. Lois is afraid, but she avoids showing it so that her daughter will not panic. Thus, Lois instructs Melba to run, while Lois “walks briskly in her stocking feet”—seeking to outpace the mob while also giving the impression of remaining calm. The sight of a pursuer with a rope raises the fear that they could be hanged—as the lynching of black people was still a relatively common practice in the South in the first half of the twentieth century.
While driving, Melba sees that the streets are full of people whom she knows do not live in her neighborhood, particularly tattooed, tobacco-chewing white men. Grandma India meets her and Lois at the door of the house and hurries them inside. She piles chairs against the locked back door and answers Melba’s question about Elizabeth Eckford’s safety. A white man and a white woman sat beside her on the bench, then rode away with her on the bus. The other students were turned away by the guards to stay safe. Mother Lois expresses anger at the guards’ unwillingness to protect Elizabeth. She tells Melba that she can go back to school at Horace Mann “for now,” but Grandma India objects, believing that will not solve anything. In fact, she reasons, it could embolden white people to use soldiers to oppress black people even further, just as the guardsmen kept the Little Rock Nine from entering the school.
The integration of Central High attracts segregationists from other cities and states. Mother Lois is outraged at how the Arkansas National Guard is used to uphold white supremacy but is not used to protect a child against a violent mob. She is concerned now for Melba’s safety and thinks that her integration of the school is not a good idea. Grandma India, on the other hand, thinks that, if they back down now, white supremacists will further oppress black people instead of leaving them alone. A retreat due to weakness or fear would send a signal that black people can be intimidated, into complying with white supremacy.
Lois tells Melba not to discuss with anyone what happened outside of Central that morning. She also forbids Melba to leave the house. When the phone begins to ring incessantly, Grandma India forbids Melba to answer it. Melba says that she would like to resume classes at Horace Mann and her grandmother chastises her for trying to give up when things get difficult. Melba writes in her diary that she has to go back to Central, otherwise white people will always be in charge.
The perils that Melba faces lead to her family’s decision to isolate her socially—that is, to keep her in the house and to limit her ability to answer the phone. Though Melba dislikes the inconveniences of integrating Central, she decides to endure them so that she and her family can live more freely.
Minnijean Brown calls and asks where Melba was when the students tried to enter Central earlier in the day. Melba explains that she was across the street. Minnijean explains that Elizabeth Eckford was alone because she did not know where the meeting place was. She does not have a phone and, therefore, did not get Daisy Bates’s call. Minnijean explains that the other students went to the U.S. Attorney’s office then to an FBI office. Minnijean invites Melba to go to the community center, which sounds like a wonderful idea to Melba, given all the good times that they had there. However, Grandma India does not allow Melba to go. For Melba, this is the last straw. She goes to her room and cries. Melba’s grandmother tells her to make this her “last cry,” for she is a warrior on the battlefield of the Lord and “warriors don’t cry.”
Both Elizabeth Eckford’s isolation outside of Central and Melba’s distress over being unable to go to the community center illustrate the importance of feeling a sense of community. With the other students present, Eckford would have felt less personally targeted by the mob. At the community center, Melba can socialize with people she knows and forget the unhappiness that she experienced earlier in the day. Her disappointment at being unable to go is understandable, but Grandma India tells her to strengthen herself, for there will be more disappointments down the road.
The phone rings again. Grandma India answers and tells Melba that she thinks it is Vince on the other end. Melba excitedly rushes to the phone only to hear a voice issuing a death threat. When she returns to the living room, she lies and says that it was not Vince but another friend. Grandma India says that she will keep watch again overnight and turns down Mother Lois’s offer to do it instead. Grandma India, after all, is a better shot and can successfully aim at fingers and toes. She does not want to kill anyone out of fear of not being forgiven by God for taking a life.
The danger of being attacked and even killed is always close at hand, though Melba still does not expect it. Her romantic daydream of Vince is disrupted by a death threat, and Grandma India keeps watch to stave off danger, though her faith keeps her from wanting to take a life. The danger posed against the family never makes Grandma India vengeful or vindictive.