The death of equality

All Jefferson Thomas wanted was his own frog in biology class. So at 15 years old, he and eight other black students entered the segregated, white-dominated Little Rock school system to do just that. The date was Sept. 4, 1957. Thomas and his eight peers, now known as the Little Rock Nine, were stopped from entering Little Rock Central High School that day by the Arkansas National Guard. It would another two weeks until the Little Rock Nine, with the assistance of the 101 Airborne Division called up by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, could enter the school and walk the halls semi-safely. Name-calling was common; beatings were frequent because the black students were not welcome there. Thomas was knocked unconscious several times while getting books from his locker. To deal with the overwhelming amount of racial violence, then-governor Orval Faubus closed all Little Rock schools during the 1958-1959 school year to prevent any black students from entering. There would be no frogs for them that year. When the schools reopened in fall of 1959, only Thomas and one other member of the Little Rock Nine returned to graduate. Last week, at 67, Jefferson Thomas was the first of the Little Rock Nine to die — a stark reminder that those who suffered and endured through the racial equality civil rights movements are still a living part of history, and how our now “equal” society isn’t so far away from the times when segregation was as commonplace as a Facebook update. But is our society really as equal as the mass-fed media and history books tell us? Take Constance McMillen’s story: Like most girls, Constance wanted to attend her high school prom. Only difference: Constance wanted to bring her girlfriend to the prom instead of a boy. The rules in her school district, which has a policy against sexual orientation discrimination, strictly prohibited same-sex couples from attending the prom. The school board even went as far as to cancel the prom so Constance and her girlfriend could not attend. What about Amy Sorrel’s story? Ms. Sorrel taught journalism at an Indiana high school, and was forced to quit her job after one of her students wrote an article for the school’s paper in support of gay equality. The school newspaper, because of a 1988 Supreme Court ruling, does not have First Amendment rights, so school officials can decide what can and can’t be published as well as who can and can’t be employed. Ring any bells? So I ask you readers: Will we change, or will we let the dream of equality die with those who fought for it?