A young woman from Sudbury, Ontario explains to Americans why Little Rock Central High School sounds so familiar.
Wearing her kaki uniform and a wide-brimmed, RCMP-style hat, U.S. Park Ranger Spirit Trickey stands in front of the Arkansas high school to tell visitors that one of the most momentous events in America’s Civil Rights Movement occurred in its classrooms.
In September 1957 – 33 years before Ms. Trickey was born – nine African-American teenagers tried to enroll in Little Rock Central High School following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregated schools prohibiting black students was unconstitutional.
When the students – who became famous as the Little Rock Nine – showed up for class, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ringed the school with state troopers and armed National Guardsmen to keep them out.
Faubus swore black students would enter the school over his dead body, or words to that effect.
In the White House President Dwight Eisenhower said, “well Orval, if that’s the way you want it,” and ordered in the U.S. Army’s battle-hardened 101st Airborne to escort the students through the screaming red necks and past Faubus’ armed guards into their classrooms.
The whole world watched via Walter Cronkite and his fellow network anchormen.
Spirit Trickey knows the story so well, because her mother is one of The Little Rock Nine.
Minnijean Brown was a brilliant student, but her high school days were miserable as she was constantly harassed, threatened and insulted by many of her white classmates at Little Rock Central. When she was handed her high school graduation diploma – with honours – she immediately headed for Canada.
She wanted to attend university, but she didn’t want to face death to do so, as did Medgar Evers, murdered for attempting to enroll in the University of Mississippi.
Minnijean Brown earned a BA in social work from Sudbury’s Laurentian University and a MA in social work from Carlton University in Ottawa, where she later taught social work. She married fisheries biologist Roy Trickey and they had six children.
When Bill Clinton, a former governor of Arkansas, became president he wanted to salute the Little Rock Nine for their courage in opening school doors for millions of African-American students by presenting them the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award.
Clinton heard then that Millijean Brown had fled to Canada, but he found a way to entice her back home. He appointed her as his undersecretary for diversification in the Department of the Interior.
Brown, now divorced, told Clinton she has a daughter working as a park ranger for Parks Canada and didn’t want to move away without her. Clinton told Brown she was now in charge of hiring for the U.S. Parks Department.
And that’s how Spirit Trickey became a U.S. Park Ranger.
As she explains the Little Rock Central High School story, ranger Trickey advises visitors to visit the Arkansas state capital building and see the impressive metal sculptures of the Little Rock Nine. She giggles that they are standing just below Gov. Faubus’ second-floor window.
Trickey said too that it’s just as tough today for students to be enrolled at Little Rock Central High School, a national historic site. It is rated as one of the best 25 high schools in America.
After President Clinton’s two terms in the White House, Minnijean Brown moved back to Canada and lives today in Vancouver.
Her daughter, the U.S. Park Ranger, is now the chef interpreter at the Klondike Gold Rush National Park in Seattle, close to her Mom.