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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Melba Pattillo Beals meets the 101st Airborne soldier who kept her alive in 1957--Marty Sammon.

Melba Pattillo Beals, is a journalist, teacher, more and memoirist. (Warriors Don't Cry; White Is A State Of Mind.) She is also one of the Little Rock Nine, those nine teenagers who integrated Little Rock High School following the thunderous Brown v. Board of Education that overturned the fantasy of separate but equal. 

Marty Sammon and Melba Patillo look over a Civil Rights memento at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif. on Sept. 6, 2007. Sammon and Patillo share personal history for their part in the Civil Rights Movement in 1957. Sammon was a member of the 101st Airborne Division that was sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957 to protect Patillo and eight other high school students, known as the Little Rock Nine, as they were the first African-American students to enter what was then a racially segregated high school. (Gary Reyes / Mercury News)
Melba and her fellows were kept alive by the 101st Airborne Division, sent to Little Rock High in 1957. This was "her" personal bodyguard, known in her books by a different name. Under orders not to interfere or get into arguments, but simply to keep her alive, Marty followed her around for six weeks, muttered, "on your right," and "Melba, pay attention," when students would try to knock her down stairs (the school was seven stories) or slam her into lockers. When a boy threw acid into Melba's eyes, it was Marty's quick thinking that saved her eyesight--he grabbed her by the pony-tail, dragged her to the bathroom, pulled away her hands, and drenched her eyes again and again with cold water. 

After six weeks, the Airborne was withdrawn, leaving Melba and her fellow students to survive kids trying to set fire to them in the bathroom, choking them, walking on their heels so often they still have tendon issues, tripping or throwing them downstairs, threatening to lynch them, and finally, taking out $10,000 bounties on them. Though these nine young people just wanted a better education than they could get in their own schools, the battles they fought were life and death. 

Here's a link to a wonderful article about the two reconnecting.

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