Sixteen-year-old Ernest Green sounded hopeful later that day. “Things would be better if only the grown-ups wouldn’t mix in,” he said. “The kids have nothing against us. They hear bad things about us from their parents.”
Federal troops were gradually withdrawn, but even with National Guard troops remaining for the rest of the school year to protect them, the black students faced abuse. Gloria Ray, 15, reported that white students called her names, spat at her, vandalized her locker, and pushed her down a flight of stairs.
Minnijean Brown, 16, was suspended after dumping a bowl of chili on a white boy’s head in response to taunts in the school cafeteria and was later expelled for standing up to a white girl. But the rest of the Little Rock Nine finished the school year, and in May 1958, Green became Central High’s first black graduate.
In September 1958, in a final act of defiance against integration, Governor Faubus closed Little Rock’s public high schools for the school year, forcing all students—white and black—who weren’t able to go to private schools to take courses by mail or enroll out of state. Some of the Little Rock Nine moved away, while others took correspondence courses. When the closings were declared unconstitutional by a federal court and Central High reopened in 1959, only two of the original black students returned.
Green, who later earned a master’s degree in sociology, went on to become assistant secretary of labor under President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Most of the other Little Rock Nine finished high school (though only three graduated from Central High), and many went on to college and graduate school, becoming accountants, lawyers, professors, activists, and journalists.