One of the members of the "Little Rock Nine" who was involved in desegregating a high school in an Arkansas city 57 years ago told Harvest Park Middle School students about her experience last week.
Fifty-seven years ago, a group of nine African-American students -- better known as the Little Rock Nine -- walked through the doors of a segregated school in Little Rock, Ark.
Facing personal fears, threats from opposition, and verbal and physical assaults, these students found themselves at the center of one of the key events during the civil rights movement.
Little Rock Nine member Melba Pattillo Beals wrote a book titled "Warriors Don't Cry," in which she describes her experience integrating Little Rock Central High School, including an incident where a segregationist student threw acid into her eyes in an attempt to blind her.
Beals, now 73, brought her story to Pleasanton last week, speaking to students, parents and school officials at Harvest Park Middle School, where some eighth-graders had been assigned her book for class.
"You have what I was fighting for," Beals said to the 450 audience members Dec. 19.
She told the Harvest Park students that she wanted a better education than what she was receiving at her all-black high school.
"A better education means a better job," Beals added.
She described how not only were the Little Rock Nine disliked by segregationists, they also faced hostility from the black community in Arkansas.
"They thought we messed up their lives for going to Central High," she said. "Our black classmates' parents lost their jobs because of us."
She recalled an instance in which the Little Rock Nine members went back to the all-black high school for a dance and none of the students talked to them.
Beals said that just a few weeks ago, one of the black students who ignored her at the dance nearly six decades ago sent her a letter apologizing for how she treated Beals back then.
In addition, Beals shared with the Pleasanton students a piece of advice given to her from one of the U.S. Army soldiers ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to escort the Little Rock Nine into the high school.
"No matter what someone does to you, you don't have time to cry," he told Beals.
She added that message helped her stay strong, no matter what people said or did to her.
Beals encouraged the Pleasanton students to "never make a decision about someone based on color."
"That is just wrong," she added.
Beals answered a few questions from the local students and then ended her presentation by telling the group, "The only answer to solving our problems is love. You each are wonderful. You each are deserving of always having the best. Protect your dream."
"That same heroine that lives inside of me, lives inside of you," she said.