In 1957, nine African-American students arrived for school at Little Rock Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Supreme Court had recently ruled segregation of public schools unconstitutional, but Arkansas’ governor claimed that enrolling 15-year-old Minnijean Brown and her eight black classmates posed a threat to public safety. He ordered the Arkansas National Guard to keep the students from entering.
The standoff ended only when President Eisenhower, in a defining moment of the civil rights movement, sent federal troops to escort the students — known as the “Little Rock Nine” — to school.
Spirit Trickey can tell you all about it. She learned everything there is to know about the crisis during 10 years working at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. She has another, more personal connection: Minnijean Brown is her mother.
As a child, Trickey didn’t know her mother had played a part in history. While Minnijean Brown Trickey has actively advocated for social justice and environmental causes her entire adult life, she didn’t like to talk about what had happened at the school.
Years later, when Trickey began to research that part of her mother’s life, “sometimes my mother would be excited, and sometimes she would burst into tears because it was very painful for her.”
“I used myself as a bridge between generations,” Trickey said of being a tour guide. “I was in my 20s, and the kids in high school thought I was relatively young compared to the black-and-white pictures in a history book. Their eyes would grow large when I showed them a picture of my mother and they saw how much we looked alike.”
Her job affected her mother as well. “My working there caused her to face something she had suppressed for over 25 years,” Trickey said. “It had an enormous impact on my family.”
Today Trickey is helping her mother write a memoir. She also is writing a screenplay about coming to understand her own history through her work at the historic site. “It was the most earth-shattering, transformative experience I’ve had. I spent 10 years of my life going back in time.”
Minnijean Brown Trickey now works with Sojourn to the Past, an organization that takes students from diverse backgrounds on trips through civil-rights-movement sites in the American South. Now she tells her own story to teenagers born generations after she braved the halls of Little Rock Central High.
When asked what she sees in the pictures of her 15-year-old mother in those history books, Spirit Trickey said she sees “just the most vivacious person. Full of life and cheery. She’s the person that I admire most on this planet, I know that much.”