Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

Elizabeth and Hazel Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

For people born in the second half of the Twentieth Century, moments in history have been frozen in time and etched in our collective memory through photography. The student kneeling at Kent State, young John Kennedy saluting as his father’s casket goes by, the Berlin War coming down and the couple embracing at Woodstock. We’ve all seen the photos, but those shots are only giving us one moment of those persons’ lives. What came before the photograph? How did they come to be in that spot at that time? What happened after the shot was taken? What happened to those people later that day, a week later or for the rest of their lives? Did the photograph end with them that day or did it in some way shape their future?

One of the most telling photographs of our collective history is of the young black student trying to enter Central High in Little Rock while a white student is screaming at her from behind. While the world looked on, as both newspaper and television reporters looked on and the film rolling, America and the world watched. While the events of that day were some of the first steps toward integration of schools to come in our country, for Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan, these same events molded their entire lives.

Author Margolick takes readers on a journey with these two women whose lives intersected that September morning. Starting briefly with a background of each of their lives leading up to when the photograph was taken, he then follows their lives as they moved forward through their later contact and eventual meeting. Along the way, readers are given a close up look at what life was like for not only the nine students who integrated Central High, but for all of those in the black community around them. He also touches on the fall out for the white supporters of these students.

The author is quite affective in drawing readers into lives of the two women and the community that molded. Readers get a sense of the tight knit black community which supported Elizabeth and the other eight students. The lackadaisical life of Hazel leading up to the incident as well as afterwards was also well drawn. He captures the intensity of the white community against the integration laws as well as those who fought to support them.

While the book is almost biographical, especially of Elizabeth, it is much more of a documentary on this period in American History with Elizabeth and Hazel playing the leads. For many, reading the book will be surprising, for others it may be hurtful but for all it should be a lesson learned and not forgotten. This is a chapter in our history that is not yet completed. Because this books is so engagingly readable, it would be a wonderful addition to Black Studies curriculums in both high school and college.

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