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

By Ekta R. Garg

October 12, 2011

Rated: Bookmark it!

In 1957 a young black girl attempted to enter all-white Little Rock Central High School.  Three years earlier, the Brown v. Board of Education court decision deemed that schools across the country be integrated: blacks and whites should study together, the ruling said, and no one gained anything by keeping them apart.

But making a statement on paper and putting that statement into practice meant two drastically different things, as the young black girl found out that September morning in 1957.

Her name was Elizabeth Eckford, and she and eight other students had been hand-picked to be the first black students to enter Little Rock Central.  Eventually they became known as the Little Rock Nine, but due to an inadvertent lack of communication Eckford entered school alone on September 4, 1957.  Protestors arrived to make their voices heard.  Journalists positioned themselves to record the event.  And Eckford, unbeknownst to all, was about to become an integral part of history.

Her walk to school was captured in three photographs by three different people who all managed to record almost the exact same moment: Eckford, wearing sunglasses to shield the fear in her eyes and a pretty dress she’d made herself, walks alone.  Behind her, among other people, is a white girl whose face exudes nothing but sheer hatred.  In two of the pictures from that moment, the white girl’s white is open mid-abuse.  In the third—the most famous—her teeth are bared and clenched, as though she is barely restraining herself from attacking Eckford with more than words.

That girl was Hazel Bryan Massery, and author David Margolick spent time with both women to write his poignant book Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, released Oct. 4.  Margolick recounts in close detail the events leading up to that pivotal point in the civil rights moment and traces both women’s lives from just before the photograph to present day.  Along with interviewing the women themselves, Margolick spent years talking to other members of the Little Rock Nine and their friends, co-workers, associates, family members, and as many other people as he could to give him the most complete picture of that one day as well as that tumultuous time in history.

Margolick’s efficient story-telling style takes readers quickly through those days while satisfying the curiosity anyone might have about both women.  Readers will probably expect the fractured opinions of community leaders and residents alike, but Margolick surprises those same readers with the unthinkable: for a short period of time, Eckford and Massery became good friends.  They spent hours spending time with each other and speaking to groups around the country about their experiences, representing the best result of the heartbreak of racial division.

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock should be required reading in educational institutions across the country, given the struggle of so many on both sides of the issue.  Integration and its consequences have never been simple issues, and Margolick’s book outlines in a well-documented, well-argued tome the long-lasting effects of even the best intentions.  The best intentions, readers will find, don’t necessarily always yield positive, packaged results.

I wholeheartedly recommend Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock.  Anyone with an opinion—any opinion—on race relations will certainly learn something from this book.

Reviewed for Bookpleasures.com


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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