Civil rights icon urges young people to stand up for beliefs during talk in Lakewood
By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Over the years, Ernest Green has come to realize just how much young people have consistently played a part in bringing about societal change.
He should know.
In 1957, the then-16-year-old Green and eight of his peers held their ground against constant threats and intimidation in the racially charged atmosphere of Little Rock, Ark., attempting to enter the town’s all-white Central High School
Since those days and the “Little Rock Nine,” Green has made it a mission to stand as a role model to what young people can accomplish if they put their minds, hearts and souls into a cause.
On March 27, 61 years after his dramatic entry into the battle for civil rights and nearly 50 years since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Green shared those insights with the students, faculty and staff of Lakewood’s Georgian Court University and the community at large.
Recounting his experience, Green explained how he volunteered to take non-violent action with his peers, which went against the wishes of his family and some in Little Rock’s black community who feared action would have dire consequences. For example, there was 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi after allegedly offending a white woman in a grocery store, which sent shockwaves through the southern black community that still echo today, he said.
Green was the oldest of the “Little Rock Nine” to enter Central High School on the morning of Sept. 25, 1957, with an escort of federal troops sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower after their original attempt weeks earlier was thwarted. The students’ action directly tested the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision “Brown v. Board of Education,” which ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
Green credited the students’ own steadfastness and determination as playing a major part in achieving the goal of desegregation. He made history the next year, becoming the first African-American to graduate from the school. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was speaking in the nearby area, attended the graduation and sat with Green’s aunt and other family members throughout.
“Here I am celebrating the 60th anniversary of my high school graduation,” he said. “If you had told me [back then] I would still be talking about it, I wouldn’t have believed it. But here I am all these years later being able to talk about that milestone.”
He spoke of other milestones, including the 1963 march on Washington in which he heard the Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Green reminded the crowd of the influence young people can have on society, referencing how the images of young people, hundreds of thousands strong, over the past weeks rallying for changes to gun laws have compelled the nation.
He urged the young to consider what roles they can take in creating a better society.
Freshman Tyrek Cooper, an English and education major, said he took Green’s words to heart. Cooper, who is bi-racial, said it was encouraging to hear someone speak who stood up for his beliefs and went on to accomplish so much.
Green’s living history lesson, Cooper said, is a “form of my own hope.”