Melba starts each day following news about integration. Aside from that, she tries to maintain some normalcy by helping Grandma India with chores and by practicing her application of make-up. One late afternoon, Grandma India enters the front hall and asks Melba to help her find her parasol. She is going to a wrestling match. Melba wants to go, too, and applies make-up and wears dark glasses, hoping that this will suffice as a disguise.
Ironically, Melba seeks to resume her normal life by disguising herself, thereby appearing abnormally, so that she can partake in all of the social activities that she misses. She tries not to look like herself—out of fear of being a target—so that she can feel like herself again.
The matches are held in Robinson Auditorium, a space usually reserved for whites only. During the matches, Melba would usually go to get a drink at the soft-drink stand and would see Vince there and invite him back to sit with her, Grandma India, and Grandma India’s friend, Mr. Claxton, thereby enjoying what would otherwise be a forbidden double-date. Melba recounts how Grandma India becomes unusually excited during the matches and then, when they are over, reverts back “to her quietest and most cultured tone.” This time, Grandma India refuses to allow Melba to attend the match out of fear for her safety. Melba becomes upset again and writes in her diary that freedom is not integration but the ability to go to wrestling matches.
Melba commits to attending Central so that spaces like Robinson Auditorium can always be open to black people, not just on the days of the wrestling matches. However, she misses the social interaction and fun of watching the matches, as well as the benefit of seeing her grandmother—who is usually composed—enter a frenzy of excitement. The auditorium, when it is reserved for blacks only, is a safe space for both Melba and Grandma India where they normally feel free to be themselves.
Melba sees a picture of Elizabeth Eckford in the Sunday newspaper. The photo is part of an ad paid for by a white man from a small town in Arkansas, calling shame to the hatred and bigotry that Elizabeth experienced. The ad, as well as the knowledge that a white man paid for it, make Melba feel hopeful.
Knowing that the ad was paid for by a white man proves to Melba that not all white people are against them. His use of Elizabeth Eckford’s suffering to inspire shame signals empathy with the students.
Melba marks the ad as the beginning of a great Sunday that just keeps getting better. Before church starts, Vince walks up to Melba and asks her to be his girlfriend. The invitation distracts her from church services and from the minister’s talk about integration and doing what is necessary “to heal any sour feelings” against white people. Melba understands that the church and the black community are essential to helping her get through the school year.
The ad confirms that Melba is not alone in her belief that Central should be integrated. Vince’s companionship is not only a dream come true, considering her crush on him, but also an offering of much needed friendship from someone within her own community.
In the newspaper, Melba reads about plans for a conference between Governor Faubus, President Eisenhower, and members of Eisenhower’s cabinet. Faubus asks for a compromise, which Eisenhower refuses. Meanwhile, Melba and the other members of the Little Rock Nine develop closer friendships.
The Little Rock Nine’s growing camaraderie is contrasted with the growing rift between Faubus, who seeks to maintain his state’s perceived right to preserve segregation, and Eisenhower, who refuses to allow Faubus to ignore federal authority.
Just before Governor Faubus’s court hearing to account for his stalling integration, the teens are invited to Daisy Bates’s house to meet with the press. Numerous “very dignified and important-looking men” from the NAACP sit in her living room, including Thurgood Marshall whom Melba recognizes from the newspaper reports of the Brown v. Board of Education decision (whose arguments against segregation Marshall had delivered). Marshall announces that they are petitioning for a court order for Faubus to move his national guard troops from the front door of the school so that the Little Rock Nine can enter. Melba is struck by Marshall’s self-assurance. However, when he says that they must prepare themselves to testify in federal court, Melba again fears both becoming a target of threats and enduring yet another excuse from the governor to keep them out of school.
Melba admires Thurgood Marshall’s intelligence and confidence, as well as his certainty that he and the NAACP can get Faubus to remove the troops and follow federal law. Melba, it seems, is “struck by Marshall’s self-assurance,” out of surprise that Marshall thinks that Faubus would allow himself to be redirected by the NAACP, even by court order. Testifying in court makes Melba nervous—not for the usual reason of having to speak publicly—but out of fear of that the governor will use her words against her and make all of her efforts up until now for naught.
During the meeting with the press, a group of news reporters, most of them white, ask the Little Rock Nine a series of questions for thirty minutes. At first, questions are directed to Elizabeth Eckford, then to all of them. After the main session, in which reporters ask Melba how she feels about going back to Central and ask Lois how a mother could put her child in such a situation, they have one-on-one interviews. Talk of the teens being heroes and heroines makes Melba proud of the Little Rock Nine as well as of her mother and grandmother for their support. She wishes that Grandma India could tell the reporters how she stands guard at night. Melba is fascinated by how the reporters work and appreciates how they all speak to her respectfully. For the first time, she feels equal to white people. She starts thinking that she wants to be a news reporter when she grows up.
Melba likes the attention that she gets from reporters. For the first time, white adults pay attention to her and care about what she has to say. She is unfazed by their careless comment about her mother’s parental competence and focuses instead on the heroic image that the press constructs for her and the other students. Melba’s desire to be a reporter is not just the result of her interest in their work, but of wanting to retain the feeling that her words matter and that she can have some part in disseminating the truth. The reporters who cover the Little Rock Nine’s story give them the power to tell the truth about living under Jim Crow.
Governor Faubus’s day in court arrives on September 19th. The federal court decision would be precedent-setting and could affect the whole country. States’ rights advocates “from surrounding Southern towns” arrive in Little Rock and segregationists publish ads to increase participation at their rallies. The Arkansas National Guard continue to stand outside of Central and “hooligans [rampage] through the streets,” preying on people who walk alone in isolated areas or at night. Melba feels the tension at home and finds it hard to concentrate. Thoughts of Vince offer a welcome distraction. Melba decides to ask her mother and grandmother for permission to date him. Mother Lois instructs Melba to invite him to the house after the court hearing. Melba is excited about Vince and decides to let God worry about what will happen at the court hearing.
Melba struggles to retain some aspects of a normal teenage life to distract herself from the pressures of integrating Central. Pursuing a relationship with Vince gives her some comfort, a relief from otherwise persistent feelings of unease. Furthermore, it reminds her to focus on those things that are within her control. She decides “to let God worry about” the court hearing, not out of a sense of futility, but so that she can continue to do what she is supposed to do—that is, retain some social life and, most importantly, focus on her education, which is her reason for wanting to attend Central.