Melba Patillo Beals remembers looking at a rope tied around a tree branch with a hangman's noose as she and eight other African-American students walked toward the entrance of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
She was 15 years old then.
"My first thought was that I could be next at the end of the rope,'' she said.
Beals was one of the "Little Rock Nine'' students who integrated the school in 1957 following the 1955 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation.
Being caught in the middle of this heated civil rights battle and the subsequent telephone threats, fireball and acid-throwing attacks made her stronger, made her realize who she was and brought her closer to God, she said.
"I have reflected on this a lot, because when something like this happens you never forget. It has been a metaphor in my life,'' Beals said.
Beals will be the keynote speaker during the 3rd annual Heart to Heart Racial Justice Breakfast, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., Feb. 14 at Music Hall's Corbett Tower, Over-the-Rhine.
Beals, 61, a journalist, author and college professor, is the author of Warriors Don't Cry, a memoir of the battle to integrate the school.
"I always think of myself as a warrior on the battlefield for the Lord, because that is a song that was passed on to me by my grandmother, Indiana Annette Payton,'' she said. "And the soldiers who were guarding us would always say to us, `Be strong, because you are warriors.' Those words stuck in my memory.''
Beals said she will discuss her story, reflecting on that civil rights battle and her life afterwards.
The divorced mother of three children, two adopted, obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism and sociology from San Francisco State University and a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.
She is studying for a doctorate degree in international multicultural education at the University of San Francisco.
She is a strong advocate of religious principles, often referring to it as her strength.
"Most of what I talk about in speeches and what I live by is a way of connecting and loving each other. I live by the thought that the God in me sees the God in you,'' Beals said.
The Heart-to-Heart breakfast is sponsored by the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bar Association, Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati, BLAC_CBA Round Table, CBA Women Lawyers Committee and Washington Park Elementary School.
"I am glad the lawyer groups are involved, because the lawyers do the leg work that get the civil liberties that we enjoy,'' she said.
Allen Howard's "Some Good News" column runs Sunday-Friday. If you have suggestions about outstanding achievements, or people who are uplifting to the Tristate, let him know at 768-8362, at email@example.com or by fax at 768-8340.
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