Minnijean Brown Trickey was a 16-year-old student when she entered Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., with eight other black teenagers in 1957. At the time, she wasn’t trying to change the world; she just wanted an education.
“We were surprised,” Brown Trickey says. “We went to school and were met by a mob.”
From that day forward, she has spent her life as a social activist. Brown Trickey told her story on Martin Luther King Day Jr. to a capacity audience in the Knutson Campus Center Centrum. A concert by The Concordia Choir dedicated to equality and nonviolence preceded Brown Trickey’s talk.
“Back in 1957 the whole idea was to just take one step forward,” she says. “We didn’t anticipate changing the world. It was just one step forward. We don’t have to put our lives on the line, but we need to take a step forward in what we believe in.”
One of Brown Trickey’s themes was that by merely walking, people become activists and eventually make the road, or the pathway, to change.
“I consider your concert I just heard to be activism because it transforms the audience,” she says. “We do social transformation this way. I felt change in me as I listened to your beautiful music of sorrow and joy.”
Desegregation in Little Rock schools began a shift in the equal rights movement, Brown Trickey says. “The shock of terror we experienced was so great because by just being black we couldn’t participate fully in the American dream of the pursuit of happiness.”
Brown Trickey says white students who sympathized with them were ostracized at school, but the worst treatment was from the nearly 2,000 students who stood by and said nothing.
“People who are indifferent are as bad as those who do the deeds of violence,” she says. “By doing nothing, you become complicit with the evildoers. At Central High School we confronted intentional ignorance. It takes courage to think and take action. If I’m not free, you’re not free. Believe it. I know it’s true.”