Characterization of Melba Beals
Rosa Parks once proclaimed, I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people. These same ideas could be spoken about Melba Pattillo Beals, a black girl who lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, an extremely segregated town. She was chosen as one of The Little Rock Nine to integrate Central High School and help the town evolve with freedom and equality. She eventually understands that this is not an easy task, nor one to be taken lightly. In Warriors Don’t Cry, the characterization of Melba Beals is revealed through her choice of words and actions, which prove that she is bold, persistent, and greatly influenced throughout her search for freedom and equality, while integrating Central High.
Melba Pattillo Beals holds nothing back and exhibits boldness for the cause of freedom and equality during her time spent at Central High School, despite the ruthless violence she is plagued with everyday because of her race. An example of how Melba displays boldness throughout her time at school is when she is confronted by taunting schoolmates. One day she was reading a book by herself, when all of a sudden a white boy from her school started verbally abusing her, calling her racist names and degrading her. ‘Thanks for the compliment,’ I said looking at him with the pleasantest expression I could muster so he would believe I wasn’t annoyed (Beals 181). Melba responded with no anger or frustration, showing her attackers that their harmful words don’t phase her, which was a very bold move on Melba’s part, considering the fact that these are her same classmates that verbally and physical abuse her on a daily basis. By reacting respectfully to her attackers, Melba is proving that both races are equal to each other and that she, and all other black people or anybody can stand up for themselves and deserve to be treated with respect. Melba also exhibits boldness when she speaks to a large body of white students from Central High. Melba describes …I prepared myself to speak to 250 students gathered for Central High’s early morning chapel service (Beals 135). Getting up in front of 250 people is a huge accomplishment for Melba, especially when she has to look at some of the people that have attacked her. The willingness of Melba to make this speech in front of her classmates is a bold accomplishment as she demands respect and justice for her and her people. Melba doesn’t stray from her bold beliefs, even throughout all of the obstacles thrown at her while integrating Central High. She has the ability to do this, because she is so dedicated to proving that no matter what color or race, everyone deserves to be treated equally.
Melba is persistent in proving that her and her people are worthy of equal treatment, just like the white students at Central, that she endured being squirted with acid, chased by multiple mobs, and being called the most horrible names imaginable. Throughout the year at Central, Melba faced many forms of violence and hate such as once when she describes, The boy flashed a shiny black object in my face. The sudden pain in my eyes was so intense, so sharp, I thought I’d die. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I couldn’t hear or see or feel anything except that throbbing, searing fire centered in my eyes (Beals 121). If Melba did not have persistence in this fight, then she could have easily thrown up her hands and decided to drop out of Central High, because of the way she was being treated. Instead, she continued the fight for freedom and equality by remaining strong and persistent, even when times got hardest, and this is a quality that a true leader possesses. Melba also remains persistent in the fight for freedom and equality by changing her mindset from scared and timid to ‘…only the warrior exists in me now. Melba went away to hide. She was too frightened to stay here (Beals 170). Having this mindset helps her to never give up or give into the constant mockery and insults that she is facing. By believing that she is truly a warrior in this battle of proving her freedom and equality, she is able to stand strong and keep on fighting for what she knows to be true. What Melba faced at Central High School was unimaginable and definitely a grueling experience for her, but since she was so persistent in earning freedom and equality, she didn’t give up on the fight, and finally reached her goal.
Melba is greatly influenced and encouraged by Grandma India, who helps her realize that she can not fight this battle alone, and that she needs advice and reassurance to stay level-headed and bold while dealing with teachers, students, and the media watching her every move. Throughout Warriors Don’t Cry Grandma India plays a huge role as a support system and an advice giver. It is obvious that Melba relies on her Grandma for many things, and even more so when she is going through this process at Central High. This is evident when Melba says, ‘I could hear Grandma India’s voice saying, God is always with you, even when things seem awful. I felt a surge of strength and a new wind (Beals 39). Since Melba is thinking about encouragement that Grandma India gave her during this time, it proves that she is greatly influenced by her and values her opinions. Nobody, not even Melba can be successful without advice or encouragement helping along the way. Another way that Melba was positively influenced by Grandma India is when Melba is so overwhelmed that she decides she just wants to die. Grandma India responds by saying ‘So do as you please, but I’d also think about that moment at which you’d have to face the Lord and explain your decision to him.’ She ignored me, humming her hymn, ‘I’m on the Battlefield for My Lord.’ I stood there for a moment watching her. That did it. I realized dying wasn’t a good idea (Beals 161). This ‘tough love from Grandma India helps Melba to realize that she has more to offer to this world than giving up now. Grandma India helps Melba to reach her full potential by always pushing her to go farther and do more for the fight for freedom and equality. Melba finished the fight at Central High School, but it definitely wasn’t accomplished without her Grandma’s wise advice, and the support of others around her.
Although no one can fully comprehend the torture Melba experienced everyday while at Central High, it is evident that it was no easy task, nor was it accomplished on her own. Melba survived the whole school year, which made an impacting statement on the students and teachers at Central. She proved to them that she is a bold, persistent, and greatly influenced advocate for equal and just rights for all, and that she will stop at nothing to see these things come to life. Melba Beals was a true warrior who relentlessly fought for Civil Rights, even when the war got tough, and like any soldier, there were times she wanted to give up, but the resilient fight in her kept her going until she truly became a victor.