Belinda’s Book Nook Review: Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

elizabeth and hazel

Title: Elizabeth and Hazel Two Women of Little Rock
Author: David Margolick
Copyright: 2011
Genre: nonfiction
Format: hardcover

Synopsis (from publisher):

“The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation – in Little Rock and throughout the South – and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.”

My review:

This book is the second book for my book club for 2014.  I was very excited to begin reading it and what great timing, February is Black History month.  I have to admit that  I don’t recall learning about the Little Rock Nine in school.  I definitely did not know the names Elizabeth Eckford or Hazel Bryan. So I read this book with deep interest and a heavy heart.

The author, David Margolick explores the lives of these two women as they first meet in front of Little Rock on the first day Central High School is forced to integrate, as they cross paths many years later and strike up an unlikely relationship.  He explores the impact this photograph of Elizabeth with a  sea of white people behind her yelling the most awful things on Elizabeth and Hazel as well as the country. Elizabeth and eight other black children endure the most difficult situations on a regular basis once inside the school. 

As an, African American, I found this book difficult to read at times.  I struggled through the very beginning when Margolick described the lynching of a black man named John Carter in 1927.  My heart ached for the injustice of it all, that adults and small children witnessed the hanging and that no one intervened.  Margolick used many examples to set the tone for the climate in Little Rock before settling into the story of the integration of Central and the lives of Elizabeth and Hazel.

I found the story telling very easy to move through but the content is what gave me pause many times.  For example, the use of the N-word (I don’t even like to write it) was widely used and that never sits well with me.

I think he did an amazing job of developing the stories of the parallel lives of both Elizabeth and Hazel.  Sadly, the overall experience kept Elizabeth from fully moving forward.  I believe one does not have to forget to move forward but I think Elizabeth has been deeply traumatized and it makes moving forward almost impossible without proper help and guidance.

Hazel managed to learn some from the experience and move forward to some extent. However both women seem to be filled with so much doubt and plagued with insecurities to truly resolve their differences.

One quote I especially l liked and had to add to my list of quotes was from Bill Clinton who was speaking at the fortieth anniversary celebrations at Central high school, “Reconciliation is important not only for those who practiced bigotry but for those whose resentment of it lingers, for both are prisons from which our spirits must escape.”

Despite my difficulties with the content, I found this book to be a very quick read. I am truly sad that I am only learning about this story now. I feel it should be on everyone’s list to read even a high school requirement.  Elizabeth in particular never received any help (emotionally and monetarily) for the sacrifices she has made and the money she made from speaking along with her job barely afforded her a life above poverty.  I am truly saddened by this. She went to battle on the front lines of racism and bigotry in this country and paid dearly only to live her life in poverty.

I gave this book five butterflies (stars) not because it is great writing but because it is a catalyst to much needed dialogue about race relations in this country and can help enlighten all of us.



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