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Updated 12:00 noon February 16, 2004
 

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Little Rock Nine alum stresses importance of Brown


Ernest Green and eight other students were "scared and confused" when federal troops escorted them into Little Rock's Central High School in the face of taunts and death threats.

(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

But no matter how frightened they were, the Little Rock Nine went through the doors and forever changed the educational landscape in this country. Integrating the school in 1957 was made possible by the Brown v. Board of Education decision three years earlier, a ruling that Green said was vital in expanding freedom and liberty to more citizens.

"It must be made plain that the freedoms that we enjoy in our great country did not come automatically. Sacrifice and struggle were required," Green said in a speech Feb. 12 that was part of the University's theme semester honoring the 50th anniversary of the landmark desegregation case.

Green earned two degrees from Michigan State University and has had a successful career that included a job as an assistant labor secretary in the Carter administration. He now is a senior executive with Lehman Brothers, a global investment firm.

He noted that many people have said Brown ultimately changed little, based on the disparities and segregation that continue in society. But Green emphasized the importance of the Supreme Court ruling. The decision was a catalyst for the second phase of the civil rights movement, and it sounded the death knell for Jim Crow—the system of government-sponsored segregation, he said.

"Surely it cannot be denied that we still have major problems," Green said. But, he said, "without Brown, African Americans in this country would be much worse off."

Looking toward the future, he said, education must be a priority for minorities to make progress. Minorities must demand economic development, become more politically involved and remain socially conscious.

Lester Monts sees Green not only as an important historical figure, but also as a childhood friend from Little Rock.

"Ernest Green and eight other students—at great personal risk—forever changed my life and the lives of many others," said Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, senior counselor to the president for the arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs, and professor of music. "What he did for education cannot be measured."

Karen Wixson, dean of the School of Education, gave welcoming remarks. Ayesha Ki'Shani Hardison, a doctoral student in English and president of Students of Color of Rackham, introduced the program and facilitated a conversation with panelists along with R. L'Heureux Lewis, a doctoral student in sociology and public policy and an active member of Students in Support of Affirmative Action.

In addition to Green and Monts, the panel included Waldo Martin Jr., professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of "Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents."

The event was sponsored by the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, LSA, the School of Education, the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, the Law School, the Ford School of Public Policy, the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, the University Library, Dialogues on Diversity, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Arts of Citizenship, and the School of Art & Design.

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