Grandma India tells Melba that, because she is fighting for justice, she is a warrior “on the battlefield for [her] Lord.” Grandma India, a Christian woman, frequently uses Biblical references to motivate Melba and to portray Melba’s integration of Central High School in the context of a greater purpose: that of fighting for what is good and just. Melba finds herself in need of such motivation when she begins to cry after her grandmother forbids her from going to the community center to meet her friend and fellow member of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown. Grandma India orders Melba to make this her “last cry,” for warriors fighting on behalf of God do not cry, as they know that God is always by their side. “On the Battlefield for My Lord” is also Grandma India’s favorite hymn. She sings it to Melba when Melba is a baby, during the time that Melba suffers from a fever and convulsions due to her head infection. The hymn, as well as Grandma India’s vision of her granddaughter as a warrior, provides them with strength and reinforces the belief that the Beals family can fight hardship and oppression through prayer, hard work, and courage. Later, after Melba meets Danny, a soldier in the “Screaming Eagle” 101st Division who is assigned to protect her, she takes inspiration from his courage and stoicism in her effort to stay strong while facing abuse from racist students and administrators. Danny also encourages Melba to try to defend herself in physical confrontations with her attackers, telling her that she needs to be a warrior in the battle to integrate Central High. Thus, although Melba is not technically a warrior, warriors come to signify the courage, strength, and dedication required to fight for what is right.
Warriors Quotes in Warriors Don’t Cry
I ran to my room and fell onto the bed, burying my face in the pillow to hide the sobs that wrenched my insides. All my disappointment over not getting into Central High and the mob chase as well as the big sudden changes in my life over the past few weeks came crashing in on me. Then I heard Grandma India padding across the room and felt the weight of her body shift the plane of the mattress as she sat down. “You had a good cry, girl?” Her voice was sympathetic but one sliver away from being angry [….] “You’ll make this your last cry. You’re a warrior on the battlefield of the Lord. God’s warriors don’t cry, ‘cause they trust that he’s always by their side. The women of this family don’t break down in the face of trouble. We act with courage, and with God’s help, we ship trouble right on out.”
“Look out, Melba, now!” Danny’s voice was so loud that I flinched. “Get down!” he shouted again as what appeared to be a flaming stick of dynamite whizzed past and landed on the stair just below me. Danny pushed me aside as he stamped out the flame and grabbed it up. At breakneck speed he dashed down the stairs and handed the stick to another soldier, who sped away. Stunned by what I had seen, I backed into the shadow on the landing, too shocked to move. “You don’t have time to stop. Move out, girl.” Danny’s voice sounded cold and uncaring. I supposed that’s what it meant to be a soldier—to survive.
“You’ve gotta learn to defend yourself. You kids should have been given some training in self-defense.” “Too late now,” I said. “It’s never too late. It takes a warrior to fight a battle and survive. This here is a battle if I’ve ever seen one.” I thought about what Danny had said as we walked to the principal’s office to prepare to leave school. I knew for certain something would have to change if I were going to stay in that school. Either the students would have to change the way they behaved, or I would have to devise a better plan to protect myself. My body was wearing out real fast.
As I stepped into the hallway, just for an instant the thought of fewer troops terrified me. But the warrior inside me squared my shoulders and put my mind on alert to do whatever was necessary to survive. I tried hard to remember everything Danny had taught me. I discovered I wasn’t frightened in the old way anymore. Instead, I felt my body muscles turn steely and my mind strain to focus […]. A new voice in my head spoke to me with military-like discipline: Discover ink sprayed on the contents of your locker—don’t fret about it, deal with it. Get another locker assigned, find new books, get going—don’t waste time brooding or taking the hurt so deep inside. Kicked in the shin, tripped on the marble floor—assess the damage and do whatever is necessary to remain mobile. Move out! Warriors keep moving. They don’t stop to lick their wounds or cry.
I pretended to become intensely involved in my book. I was reading about Mr. Gandhi’s prison experience and how he quieted his fears and directed his thoughts so that his enemies were never really in charge of him. All at once I was aware that one of my hecklers was coming toward me. “Niggers are stupid, they gotta study real hard, don’t they?” he said in a loud voice. “Thanks for the compliment,” I said, looking at him with the pleasantest expression I could muster so he would believe I wasn’t annoyed. “Study hard now, nigger bitch, but you gotta leave this place sometime, and then we got you.” “Thank you,” I said again, a mask of fake cheer on my face. He seemed astonished as he slowly started to back away. I felt myself smiling inside. As Grandma India said, turning the other cheek could be difficult […] it was also beginning to be a lot of fun.
Meanwhile Mrs. Huckaby, the woman I considered to be somewhat near fair and rational about the whole situation, had lapsed back into her attitude of trying to convince me there was nothing going on […]. I was seeing things; was I being too sensitive; did I have specific details? When she stopped behaving in a reasonable way, she took away the only point of reference I had […]. I supposed that she must be under an enormous weight and doing her best […]. But once again I had to accept the fact that I shouldn’t be wasting my time or energy hoping anyone would listen to my reports. I was on my own.
Early on Wednesday morning, I built a fire in the metal trash barrel in the backyard, fueled by my school papers. Grandma said it would be healing to write and destroy all the names of people I disliked at Central High: teachers, students, anyone who I thought had wronged me […]. Grandma India stood silent by my side as I fed the flame and spoke their names and forgave them […]. Finally she said, “Later, you’ll be grateful for the courage it built inside you and for the blessing it will bring.” Grateful, I thought. Never. How could I be grateful for being at Central High? But I knew she was always right.
In 1962, when I had attended the mostly white San Francisco State University for two years, I found myself living among an enclave of students where I was the only person of color. I was doing it again integrating a previously all-white residence house, even though I had other options. I had been taken there as a guest, and someone said the only blacks allowed there were cooks. So, of course, I made application and donned my warrior garb because it reminded me of the forbidden fences of segregation in Little Rock.
And yet all this pomp and circumstance and the presence of my eight colleagues does not numb the pain I feel at entering Central High School, a building I remember only as a hellish torture chamber. I pause to look up at this massive school—two blocks square and seven stories high, a place that was meant to nourish us and prepare us for adulthood. But because we dared to challenge the Southern tradition of segregation, this school became, instead, a furnace that consumed our youth and forged us into reluctant warriors.