Saturday, September 15, 2012

Margolick Tells the Story Behind the Story of a Powerful Photograph

(Image from NPR Books)

On the morning of September 4, 1957, reporter Will Counts snapped a photograph that would haunt not just the nation, but also the two girls pictured most prominently in the image.  Both of them were 15 years old, both were looking forward to becoming juniors at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and neither knew just how much their faces would come to symbolize the explosive issue of school integration.  The two girls, who did not know each other when Counts took their picture, would become forever linked because of one powerful photograph.  

Because her family did not own a telephone, Elizabeth Eckford did not receive the message to meet the rest of the Little Rock Nine before school on September 4.  They planned to enter Central High School together.  Elizabeth ended up walking alone.  The solitary figure in white became an easy target for the crowd of protesters that gathered outside the school.  In the midst of the mob stood Hazel Bryan.  Like the people around her, she jeered and taunted Elizabeth, making it clear how she felt about a black girl daring to enter the hallowed halls of her high school.  At that moment, Counts' camera clicked, capturing Hazel, her lips pulled back and teeth bared, looking like a lion stalking its prey.  The photo seemed to say everything that needed to be said about the situation in Little Rock.  Published in the Arkansas Democrat later that afternoon, the picture struck an immediate chord with all who saw it.  In today's terms, it went viral.  All over the country, outraged Americans demanded swift and aggressive action to be taken in Arkansas.  

As far as most people know, that's it.  Integration happened, end of story.  Except it's not.  Central High did not integrate right away and, when it finally did, its black students suffered all kinds of indignities.  Elizabeth was never the same after her experience there.  And even though, as an adult, Hazel sought and received forgiveness from Elizabeth, she never quite got over the shame of having her worst moment captured on film for millions to see.   

The story behind the story of Counts' iconic photograph so fascinated David Margolick, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, that he wanted to write an article about it.  The article turned into a book, Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock.  Although it may not sound like a page turner, I found myself reading it until way past my bedtime, promising myself over and over that I'd just read one more chapter.  That's the beauty of a well-told story—it draws you in, not letting you go until you've reached the end.  And, often, not even then.  This is how I felt about Elizabeth and Hazel.  I found it totally engrossing.  Also interesting, eye-opening, sad, and thought-provoking.  I'm glad I read it and I know I'll never look at the Eckford/Bryan photo in the same way again.   

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine and the Dear America Book, With the Might of Angels by Andrea Davis Pinkney)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language (a few F-bombs, plus milder invectives, including racial epithets) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

1 comment:

  1. Ooo! I love a story that makes you keep reading. This one sounds interesting. I want to see the pic now, I must admit.

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