STORY BY JAYLIN JERRY, FNN REPORTER, WOODRIDGE BUREAU
FNN CELEBRATES BLACK HISTORY: FEB. 18, 2014. When you think about Black History, there are so many names that come to mind and events that are worth reading and talking about. But for some, Jefferson Thomas isn’t a name that we easily recall. Jefferson Thomas was one of the "Little Rock Nine,” the brave group of African- American teenagers who integrated an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. As a teenager Jefferson Thomas grew up watching people in the South fight unfair laws. Some of these laws said black and white people had to go to different schools. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court said that school segregation was wrong. It was against the law and many whites were very unhappy about this decision.
Nine black teenagers were going to integrate Central High School. The all-white school was in Little Rock. At a very young age, fifteen-year-old Jefferson Thomas was one of those brave students.
Leaders in Little Rock, Arkansas, planned to follow the Supreme Court ruling. But the governor by the name of Orval Faubus was upset. He didn't like the ruling at all and made some poor decisions. He sent national guard soldiers to the school and they blocked Thomas and the eight other students from entering. Other whites were also angry. They didn't want the nine students at the school. Because the students were in danger and many people felt they were unsafe, President Dwight Eisenhower had to get involved and ordered U.S. soldiers to the school. The new students were finally able to enter the school to begin a new start towards their education. But, over the months, things weren't easy for the nine students. Some white students made fun of them. Soldiers had to walk the new students from class to class. Years later, Thomas remembered being made to feel like a second-class citizen. There was a group of white teens he played with and got along well with before attending Central High. Once the nine teens became students, some of these white kids were not happy at all. One even said Thomas wasn't smart enough to sit by him in the classroom.
After high school, Thomas fought in the Vietnam War and worked for the U.S. government. Through it all, Thomas never lost his spirit. He always found a reason to smile.
The Little Rock Nine bravely helped to end segregation in the South. Because of them, others stood up for their own rights. The United States recognized this in 1999 and President Bill Clinton presented each of the nine with an award. Bill Clinton said, “America is a stronger nation because of the life Jefferson lived.” President Barack Obama also remembered Thomas as a hero.
President Obama said Jefferson Thomas showed great courage. He never gave up. Thomas died on September 5, 2010. Friends and leaders honored him as a hero. They said he opened doors for those to come.
Jaylin Jerry is a 7th grade scholar at Friendship Woodridge Academy.