How the poster girl for racial intolerance became friends with black classmate only to fall out years later

Almost 70 years later, in a moving book that interviews both figures in the symbolic image, it has emerged that was just the start of the journey for Elizabeth and Hazel – who came close to reconciliation before it all broke down once more.

The pair appeared smiling together in 1997 in front of Central High, where then-President Bill Clinton spoke for the 40th anniversary of the school’s integration.

But it was not quite the triumphant rapprochement touted.

‘Hazel was thrilled, Elizabeth, curious,’ writes author David Margolick in an extract from Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women Of Little Rock published by Slate.

The five years that followed saw the two women courted by historians, analysts, politicians, broadcasters – all wanting a slice of their story.

They even appeared on Oprah, who did not hide her distaste of their friendship.

24DB743300000578-2917615-image-a-6_1421722644683Hazel’s face had epitomized the three-week struggle at Little Rock Central High, when Governor Orval Faubus blocked nine black students from enrolling at a high school with about 2,000 white students.

In September 1957, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey, and Thelma Mothershed Wair arrived at the school, having applied and been accepted to join.

The Supreme Court had declared segregated classrooms unconstitutional in 1954.

Little Rock School Board voted to integrate – but Faubus said he feared violence if the races mixed in a public school.

In a battle that involved President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division were deployed to man the situation.

However, cracks appeared during an interview where Hazel revealed she had never dedicated much thought to the incendiary image of her 15-year-old self – a revelation which shocked and devastated Elizabeth.

On September 11, 2001, they spoke for the last time before cutting ties.

Meeting both women, now in their 70s, Margolick heard two sides of the story.

Hazel Bryan Massery, who still resides in Little Rock decided soon after the incident to read up on her ignorance; she helped black women in broken marriages; studied Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches; listened to reports of racially-aggravated attacks on the radio.

Elizabeth Eckford, on the other hand, had struggled through deaths and destitution.

‘With enormous courage and resiliency, Elizabeth ultimately made a life for herself and has largely come to peace with her past,’ Margolick writes.

‘Paradoxically, it’s been Hazel, who has led a life of far greater financial and familial security, who now feels wounded and angry.’

After leaving school at 17, marrying, and having kids, Hazel was desperate to atone: ‘One day, she realized, her children would learn that that snarling girl in their history books was their mother. She realized she had an account to settle.’

Aged 20, Hazel called Elizabeth to tearfully apologize, opening the gates for a highly-publicized relationship to form.

But it was plagued with issues.

Though Hazel helped Elizabeth to work through her issues and find a job, Elizabeth felt uneasy about their relationship and uncertain about Hazel’s attempts to make up for her bullying.

Their posed picture did not betray the awkwardness between them, Margolick explains, and over the years they would struggle when questioned about their new-found friendship.

In 1998, an interviewer asked Hazel about the image and she said she never gave it much thought. The reaction, yes. The image wasn’t discussed, she claimed.

Elizabeth was shocked and expressed her disappointment.

Finally, it was Hazel that severed ties as she felt an irreconcilable tension between them.

But Margolick suggests it is not over.

He writes: ‘Each, I noticed, teared up at references to the other. Perhaps, when no one is looking—or taking any pictures—they’ll yet come together again. And if they can, maybe, so too, can we.’

Source: The DailyMail

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