Warriors Don’t Cry retells the heart-wrenching first hand account of Melba Pattillo Beal’s. An African-American woman growing up in segregated 1950’s Little Rock, Arkansas. When first introduced to Melba, we see this young ignorant girl whose only question is addressed to God; “When will we get our turn to be in charge?” (7). With the support of her Grandma India, possibly one of her greatest influences and mentors, she learns the value of having patience. As the story progresses we see Melba transform into this mature, tolerant young woman who overcomes the pain of many hardships. She truly emcompasses the qualities of a warrior.
A turning point in the memoir is when Grandma India states “You’ll make this your last cry…God’s warriors don’t cry” (57) to Melba. Although while Melba and her Grandmother are arguing about whether or not she may attend something miniscule, which upsets Melba, this statement holds much depth. This is when Melba perceives her importance to not only Little Rock, but for the entire African-American community across the United States. Her Grandmother fully realizes what attending Central means for the future of blacks in America. She now sees Melba as a soldier who needs to develop thick skin and endure pain to get through her time at this new high school.
All throughout Melba’s childhood she would question God’s plan. Why was God taking so long to take initiative and bring an end to the suffering of black lives. When would she finally be equal? Finally be able to sit anywhere on the bus, use the white woman’s bathroom, or ride that merry-go-round at Fair Park? Her grandmother’s words resonate with her, she realizes she must shelter her pain from the outside. She’s now finally participating in God’s war after so much patient waiting.
Melba chose to share this anecdote with the reader to show the depth of influence that Grandma India had on her. It also served to showcase the pivotal role her grandmother played in Melba’s upbringing. Although some may see Grandma India’s actions as being harsh, it’s important to differentiate tough love from simply being cruel. Tears are a sign of weakness, only victims themselves cry.
Her grandmother taught her to never see herself as a victim. Grandma India was an elderly, godly woman. Throughout her entire life she saw the mistreatment and dehumanization of black people, and they were tolerant of this way of living, because they themselves felt they were victims. She didn’t want Melba to be just another victim.
Another event that really reinforced Melba’s resistant ways was the expulsion of her good friend Minnijean Brown. Minnijean, finally sick and tired of being on the receiving end of many cruel comments and violent assaults decided to speak her mind, calling a group of white girl’s “white trash” after they assaulted her. She was expelled immediately for her comments.
The white pro-segregationists saw this as a huge victory in their “movement”, and gained momentum in noticing that these black students could indeed be faltered. Seeing that the black students can and will crack under pressure started a series of provocations, beginning the chant “one nigger down, eight to go” (241). Melba, realizing this was a prime opportunity the pro-segregationists would use to their advantage, knew it meant being stronger than ever. This only strengthened her resistant ways. She was consistently slapped, spat on and on one occasion whacked across the face with a tennis racquet. Her only reaction to these cruel actions was a simple “thank you”, infuriating the white people of Central High, stating “only the warrior exists in me now. Melba went away to hide.” (246). This shows the effect Gandhi’s nonviolent form of protest had on her.
This is a significant excerpt from the memoir, it’s really saddening to think about, but Melba’s innocence was completely lost at this point. She becomes alienated by her actions, as if she’s some sort of strange being that has no emotion. She’s hated by the white people for the color of her skin, and now has lost many friends due to the reactions she has towards the violence; simply taking the beating. On her sweet sixteen, a day she constantly daydreamed about in her adolescence, she ends up being completely alone to celebrate; a day that ends with tears.
Melba wanted to emphasis on the consequences she personally faced due to this “victory” of integration. She didn’t want readers to feel the war on racial equality ended at Little Rock just because of the city’s new integration policies . She wanted people to know that there used to be a young girl who came home from school with rotten eggs in her hair, bruises, and blood stains on her uniform, each and everyday. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to realize you no longer can be a silly, naive child anymore. To realize you fully embody the characteristics of a warrior and no matter how hard you try, you can’t go back to live in a world you always imagined as being perfect; a world where you could live care-free.
As time carried on Governor Faubus decided the only way to move in the opposite direction of desegregation was to completely close all of Little Rock’s schools. Melba didn’t let this inconvenience her education though and decided to move to Santa Rosa, California. Even after all the cruelty and neglect she was dealt, she decides to attend San Francisco State University, a school dominated by white students. This just shows Melba’s drive for equality, and the undying flame she has for the movement. Melba states “…it reminded me of the forbidden fences of segregation in Little Rock.” (310). She felt it was her duty to take action and attend the university in order to leave a marking impression.
In Santa Rosa, she lived with the McCabe’s, a white family who volunteered to host her. Although first scared of the thought of living with a white family, they all learned to love each other very quickly. She later expressed “To this day I call them mom and pop and visit to bask in their love and enjoy the privilege of being treated as though I am their daughter.” (308). She recognizes that although white segregationists were the root cause of so much pain, it was white people who aided her through many obstacles in her life. Melba says “Without the help of other law-abiding white people who risked their lives, I wouldn’t be around to tell this story” (309). Melba displays her immense heart and character, she shows that she was not an ignorant person. Never feeling hate or resentment to the white race as a whole, but realizing there is good and bad in all individuals. She specifically acknowledges the efforts of Link and Danny, two white men who saw an opportunity to help the cause and took it.
In closing, Melba presented us with a powerful narrative that shed light on the Little Rock Crisis and how she was capable of overcoming that year of her life. She teaches us valuable lessons of patience, forgiveness, and will power. Thanks to the people who surrounded her during the year of 1957, she was able to develop formidable characteristics that helped her see the world as it is. With the help of her Grandma India, she realized the importance of patience and nonviolent protest. This virtue ultimately allowed Melba to keep her composure under the wicked clench segregationists thrust upon her. Through the tender care the McCabe’s provided Melba, she sought peace of mind. Finally coming to terms with what had become of her life, accepting it, and gaining a loving family that would help her in educational endeavours. Her good friend Link and bodyguard Danny would serve as her protectors. She saw the brutality of people, but also the kindness of people. These generous souls made it possible for Melba to see all other people as individuals rather than colors.