Melba hopes to meet Governor Faubus face-to-face, believing that he will be in the courtroom. The Little Rock Nine enter the Federal Building with Daisy Bates, Thurgood Marshall, and several other people. Melba wears dark glasses so that no one can see how fearful she is. She feels that, since the integration began, both black and white people got in the habit of staring at her. The faces she saw on the morning of the hearing were all different. Some have “welcome smiles, others [are] indifferent,” and some are “undeniably angry.”
Like Elizabeth Eckford, Melba uses dark glasses to retain a neutral look, so that her enemies cannot recognize her fear and pain. The sunglasses are a symbol of Melba’s resistance in that they do not allow others to show how emotionally impacted she is by the events around her. The dark glasses allow her to appear stoic, though she does not feel that way.
For their safety, the Little Rock Nine enter the courthouse through a side door and go up an elevator. The group and their escorts are jammed inside. Melba sweats and struggles to breathe. The doors open to a sea of photographers trying to get pictures and reporters asking questions. They make their way to the courtroom. A white lady behind Melba makes a comment about how black people smell bad. The leaders of the Arkansas National Guard arrive, followed by Governor Faubus’s attorneys. One of the attorneys explains that elected officials do not need to be present to answer a summons. Melba sees it as a missed opportunity. If she had a chance to see the governor in person, she thinks that she may not have disliked him so much.
The white lady behind Melba repeats a cruel and long-standing misbelief about black people being unclean and having a bad smell. This illogic reinforces whites’ aversion to having the Little Rock Nine at Central High. The comment is also designed to remind Melba that she is unwanted. Her disappointment at not seeing Governor Faubus is due to her desire to humanize him. She only knows him from television as a distant figure who seeks to protect the tradition of segregation in Arkansas.
Thelma Mothershed, who has a heart condition, begins to turn blue and struggles to breathe, exhibiting symptoms that are typical of her condition. Daisy Bates insists that the teens focus on their testimony while she looks after Thelma. The Honorable Judge Ronald Davies enters the courtroom. Tom Harper, one of Governor Faubus’s attorneys, asks that the case be dismissed due to an absence of a three-judge panel, which is typically used in a case involving constitutional issues. Judge Davies insists that the case will proceed, even though the attorneys ask to be excused. Harper reads a statement from Faubus saying that the governor will not concede his responsibilities to the federal government. The lawyers then state their refusal to proceed, in a kind of protest to the court. The attorneys for the Justice Department declare themselves amicus curiae, or friends of the court, and declare that they have prepared one hundred witnesses to support the order for integration. The judge announces that the witness testimony will begin after lunch.
Thelma’s reaction alerts the others to the tension of the present day, despite it being a typical reaction from Thelma. The standoff between Judge Davies and the attorneys is a battle between federal power, represented by the judge, and the belief in states’ rights, represented by Faubus’s attorneys. The attorneys’ flagrant disrespect of the judge, as well as the governor’s statement regarding “his responsibilities” to uphold the Southern standard of segregation, are in keeping with the South’s history of resentment toward the federal government for its ability to interfere in state affairs. It is a resentment that has lingered in the South since the Civil War.
The only place that will serve the Little Rock Nine and the members of the NAACP is “a greasy joint” in a “shabby section” of Little Rock. Thurgood Marshall sits with the Little Rock Nine, eating overcooked hamburgers topped with wilted lettuce. He expresses shock that Faubus’s attorneys walked out of court, suspecting that it was their plan to do so all along.
Though Melba is in awe of Marshall’s dignity and stature, as a black man he too is subjugated to the substandard treatment that black people receive under Jim Crow. His compliance with this poor service is juxtaposed with the entitled behavior of Faubus’s attorneys.
The witnesses all make one major point: the threat of violence due to integration was an insufficient reason to have called out the Arkansas National Guard. School Superintendent Virgil Blossom talks about how the school board planned the integration and chose the students who, he says, were selected “on the basis of scholarship, personal conduct, and health.” Melba wonders if he knows about Thelma’s heart condition. Ernest Green and Elizabeth Eckford turn out to be the only students who testify, to Melba’s relief. An attorney mentions the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which reminds Melba of her potential rapist. Judge Davies announces his decision: Governor Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to thwart integration, which would proceed at Central High.” Someone in the courtroom curses at Judge Davies, but Melba is thankful for him and excited for the opportunity to be a Central High student on Monday morning.
There are both public and personal dimensions to desegregation. Melba associates the Brown v. Board decision not with the possibility of being able to enter spaces that were previously barred to her, but with a man’s attempt to violate her body and destroy her innocence. An historical moment in which black people became freer was, for her, an introduction into the ways in which white people could still control and brutalize black bodies. The thought is a fleeting one, however, for she is excited to fulfill the promise of the Supreme Court decision by enrolling at Central, despite white people in the courtroom being just as opposed to her presence as her attacker was.