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March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine

Review

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine

In MARCH FORWARD, GIRL, author Melba Pattillo Beals shares her poignant story of growing up in Arkansas during the Jim Crow era. Because she was black, she and her family were subjected to all the humiliating laws barring her from doing many things that white people could do. She couldn't drink from certain water fountains or eat at certain lunch counters. She could go shopping at some stores, but she wasn't permitted to touch anything unless she wanted to buy it; she even had to ask someone to hand her things because she wasn't permitted to get them off the shelves herself. She couldn't even try on clothes before buying them to see if they fit. And, worst of all, she couldn't attend the public high school she had her heart set on: Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"I read with great interest Melba's account of growing up in her hometown….This story has a special place in the history of Civil Rights in America and should be shared for all to read."

Melba was a very bright little girl. Her grandmother lived with the family and took care of her and taught her many things while her parents worked and her mother attended college. Melba learned to read and write before she enrolled in school, so when she started school, she was well ahead of her classmates. She was promoted to second grade before she even finished first grade.

School integration began in Arkansas while Melba was in high school. The court case of Brown vs. The Board of Education determined all public schools were supposed to accept both black and white students, but the political leaders of Arkansas were slow to implement these new laws. Finally, when Melba was a junior in high school, her school district took the step of allowing nine black students to enroll in Central High. Because of her academic excellence, Melba was one of those nine students.

I read with great interest Melba's account of growing up in her hometown. She kept talking about how she needed to do something to change her life, and I kept waiting for that change to happen. When she finally got her big chance --- that of attending Central High --- I was disappointed as to how that momentous occasion was characterized in the text. The entire storyline of the book led up to this life-changing opportunity, but the account of her attendance at this school was treated as an Epilogue to the story, rather than an integral part of Melba's life. I was very disappointed that only one chapter (the Epilogue) was devoted to her year in this high school. I wanted to read more about what life was like there for her in that high school.

That said, there are lots of black and white photos scattered throughout the text, as well as a number of detailed black-and-white sketches, that illustrate Melba's life and the times in which she lived. The author also includes a Note to Readers and an Acknowledgments page at the end of the book. This story has a special place in the history of Civil Rights in America and should be shared for all to read.

Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on January 30, 2018

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine
by Melba Pattillo Beals and Frank Morrison