Sunday, September 25, 2011

on this day in 1957


--------Spilling the Beans

------------------for Minnijean

If truth be told
it's all about
spilling the beans —
whether it's from a tray let go
in the school lunch room
or telling it like it is
from the podium.
It's speaking truth —
----------------whether to power
or to the powerless;
it's blowing the whistle
when the whistle needs blowing.
More often than not
--------------it's about courage —
a heart grown too big
with outrage
----------------or compassion,
more often than not
a heart grown big
with compassion outraged
until it explodes
------------------- spilling the beans.

-----------© Rafael Jesús González 2011

On this day in 1957, 1,000 troops secured Little Rock Central High, allowing nine black students to enter and attend school. It was a historic day in the Civil Rights movement not because it was the first school to desegregate, but because it was the first time federal intervention was used to do so.

When the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine in 1954, banning segregated public schools, it left up to individual states and communities the issue of how and when integration would proceed. Little Rock had approved a gradual approach; the high school would integrate first, then the middle schools, then elementary. But when the time came for black students to enroll in Central High, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus reneged on the deal, surrounding the school with National Guard troops on the first day of the year to protect people, he claimed, from the caravans of protestors on their way to Little Rock. In fact, the Guard denied entrance to the nine black students who attempted to enroll as a crowd of about 300 people gathered. Within days, the spectacle was over, but the Guard remained, napping on the school's lawn and reading newspapers to pass the time. The approach that Southern moderates like William Faulkner had preached was quickly turning from "go slow" into "don't go."

More than two weeks passed before a federal injunction withdrew the National Guard from the school. When Little Rock police officers escorted the nine black students into school on the morning of September 23, crowds of protestors outside became so menacing that administrators had the students slip out a side entrance before noon.

And so two days later, President Eisenhower ordered the Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne Division stationed in Kentucky to escort the nine black students back in — and ensure they were able to stay. By then, the national media attention on Little Rock had become intense, drawing massive crowds — although, as the school newspaper reminded students, the protestors represented less than 1 percent of the town's population.

Of the "Little Rock Nine," as the black students became known, only three graduated from Central High. Five finished their education elsewhere; one was expelled for responding to the constant harassments of her classmates, once by overturning a bowl of chili on a tormentor. (The bullies went largely unpunished.) All nine credited their parents for encouraging them to enroll — and attend class — despite intense scrutiny and racism.

On this day in 1789, the First Federal Congress of the United States proposed 12 amendments to the recently ratified Constitution. Ten of them were ultimately adopted to become what's known as the Bill of Rights.

The amendments were the result of a major compromise between opposing factions, the Federalists — who thought the Constitution was a sound and sufficient document — and the Anti-Federalists, who worried that it gave far too much power to the central government and didn't protect individual freedoms. The two sides were at an impasse, and the Constitution was at risk of being rejected, until an agreement was reached that, if the Constitution was ratified, Congress would add on a bill of rights. The Federalists believed the addition was unnecessary, and the anti-Federalists believed it wasn't enough ... but both sides conceded for the sake of the common good.

The first two amendments, concerning the number of constituents and the payment for Congressmen, were rejected. The other 10, each a single sentence, provided for such rights as the freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, the right to a speedy trial by jury without cruel or unusual punishment, and the right of states to govern themselves in any way not expressly prohibited by the Constitution.

An additional 17 amendments have been added to the Constitution since then. The most recent one, passed in 1992, was that second article proposed and rejected back in 1789, delaying any change to Congress's pay until the following session. The very first article proposed is still pending before state legislatures.

As the anonymous saying goes, "Democracy is cumbersome, slow and inefficient, but in due time, the voice of the people will be heard and their latent wisdom will prevail."

© 2011 American Public Media
480 Cedar Street, Saint Paul, MN 55101

(A devout statement of faith devoutly to be wished —
and worked towards.

— Rafael Jesús González)


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