This week the group met for our regular lunch sessions, but we were lucky enough to have a guest speaker Susan Russell who works in the Theater department at Gettysburg College and also grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas and attended Central High School. She came to talk to us about what it was like growing up in Little Rock. Her upbringing was very normal, she explained, and she never felt that she lived in an extremely racist city. She told us that the first time she ever knew what that her town was special was when she was reading a book about South Africa. The book said something along the lines of, “well yes the racism in South Africa is bad but you guys in America have Little Rock, Arkansas.” She said she couldn’t believe it, her town was known around the world as being racist. To a young child that was really upsetting, she said she didn’t even tell anyone about reading that she was almost embarrassed.
Susan went on to explain that attending Central High School was a wonderful experience. She talked about how growing up in the South you know that racism exists and no one tries to cover it up. I think the whole group found that point very interesting because being from the North we tend to ignore racial issues hoping they will just go away. But, because the South has had such an ugly and obvious history of racism they have gone through somewhat of a rehabilitation process. In the South today there is still racism but, as Susan said, it is almost more comfortable because it is out in the open. Meanwhile in the North there are underlying race issues that no one addresses so they cannot be resolved.
We were so lucky to have Susan Russell come talk to us because I think we tend to forget the Little Rock, Arkansas is just a normal town. She had a very normal upbringing and she kept emphasizing how rich she feels, she went to an extremely diverse school and got to learn so much about African American history. She felt rich from the education she got from Central High School. Sometimes we forget that within history there are people. Little Rock is world renowned for the events at Central High School but it is also just a normal American town. It was really exciting to get to talk to someone who grew up in Little Rock and I think I can speak for the whole group when I say that it made us all even more excited for our trip.