hazel bryan

Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan: the story behind the photograph that shamed America
One was trying to go to school; the other didn’t want her there. Together, Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan starred in one of the most memorable photographs of the Civil Rights era. But their story had only just begun.

If you’re like me, you recognize this photo and you know it’s from Arkansas at the beginning of school integration but you probably don’t know much else. I’d never actually looked this up but I just saw the link in a comment thread.

1) The angry white woman is actually a 15-year-old student.
2) The photo was so famous, the girl’s parents pulled her out so she actually never went to a school newly integrated by the Little Rock Nine.
3) The two of them tried to make amends decades later and even had a brief friendship. But some wounds never heal.

Interesting little afternoon read.



~ Hazel Bryan, spewing at Elizabeth Eckford, Central High School, Little Rock, AK, September 4, 1957

Amazon.com’s publisher’s book review:

“The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation - in Little Rock and throughout the South - and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.

In this gripping book, David Margolick tells the remarkable story of two separate lives unexpectedly braided together. He explores how the haunting picture of Elizabeth and Hazel came to be taken, its significance in the wider world, and why, for the next half-century, neither woman has ever escaped from its long shadow. He recounts Elizabeth’s struggle to overcome the trauma of her hate-filled school experience, and Hazel’s long efforts to atone for a fateful, horrible mistake.

The book follows the painful journey of the two as they progress from apology to forgiveness to reconciliation and, amazingly, to friendship. This friendship foundered, then collapsed - perhaps inevitably - over the same fissures and misunderstandings that continue to permeate American race relations more than half a century after the unforgettable photograph at Little Rock. And yet, as Margolick explains, a bond between Elizabeth and Hazel, silent but complex, endures.”

… and…scene! … 

While the author obviously wants to sell books and does note in the review (technically) that the kumbaya ending the review and book cover suggests was short-lived, he realizes that Americans like happy endings. So the upbeat tone of it all is a bit… misleading.

The hope that one can evolve from being a foaming-at-the-mouth racist to a forgiven, atoned, and decent-again member of the human family holds great appeal for most American whites. As well it should, perhaps. Which is why the reality of what happened between these two women ONCE AGAIN, in the end, is so ironically enlightening.

For a much shorter version of this story, check this out:


Happy Black History YEAR!