Skip to Main Content

Elizabeth Eckford and Courage

90 min

Essential Question

  • Why is individual courage necessary for the success of the larger community or civil society? 

Guiding Questions

  • What are the elements required to act courageously?   
  • What are some possible consequences of doing nothing in the face of injustice?    

Learning Objectives

  • Students will analyze a primary source image to identify an example of courage through the story of Elizabeth Eckford.    
  • Students will explain why the aftermath of Brown v. The Board of Education was not a seamless transition to equal education and describe how individuals acted bravely to implement the Court’s ruling. 
  • Students will identify areas in their own lives that require them to act with courage.  

Student Resources

Teacher Resources

  • Analysis Questions 
  • Virtue in Action  
  • Journal Activity
  • Sources for Further Reading  
  • Virtue Across the Curriculum  

  • Courage: The ability to take constructive action in the face of fear or danger. To stand firm as a person of character and do what is right, especially when it is unpopular or puts one at risk.
  • Desegregated: To end a policy of legally required separation of races. 
  • Integrate: To bring separated races together. 
  • Specter: The idea of a disturbing event. 


  • The following lesson asks students to consider the virtue of courage. Students will engage with the story of Elizabeth Eckford as they consider the essential question: Why is individual courage necessary for the success of the larger community or civil society? 
  • The main activity in this lesson requires students to read and analyze a narrative that explores Elizabeth Eckford. Students may work individually, in pairs, or small groups as best fits your classroom. The analysis questions provided can be used to help students comprehend and think critically about the content. As the teacher, you can decide which questions best fit your students’ needs and time restraints.   
  • Additionally, the lesson includes a primary source analysis activity that asks students to explore an image of Elizabeth Eckford and identify her as an example of courage.
  • Lastly, the lesson includes sources used in this lesson for further reading and suggestions for cross-curricular connections. 


  • Distribute the Anticipate Activity. Complete the short reading and questions as a class or have students complete the handout for homework. 
  • In-class: Have students share their responses with a shoulder partner or in small groups. 
  • Lead a brief class debrief to ensure students understand:  
    • The importance of the Brown v. Board of Education case; and 
    • The ruling in the case required local legislative and executive power to cooperate with the ruling. 
  • Scaffolding note: For additional background on the Brown v. Board of Education case, watch the following Homework Help video


  • Transition to the Engage: Primary Source Analysis
  • Scaffolding note: Review directions and complete them as a class, in small groups, or individually.  
  • Encourage students to make the connection between the role of individuals and government: Individuals (Linda Brown and family) and groups (the NAACP) brought a case to the Supreme Court to challenge segregation, the Court ruled in their favor, yet local governments resisted the ruling to integrate schools. Again, individuals like Eckford courageously chose to stand up for what was right (integrated schools) at great personal risk.  


  • Transition to the Elizabeth Eckford and Courage Narrative. Students will learn and analyze the story of Elizabeth Eckford to understand the courage necessary to integrate public schools.  
  • Scaffolding Note: It may be helpful to instruct students to do a close reading of the text. Close reading asks students to read and reread a text purposefully to ensure students understand and make connections. For more detailed instructions on how to use close reading in your classroom, use these directions. Additional reading strategies are provided for other options that may meet your students’ needs.  
  • Essential Vocabulary:   
    • Courage: The ability to take constructive action in the face of fear or danger. To stand firm as a person of character and do what is right, especially when it is unpopular or puts one at risk.
    • Desegregated: To end a policy of legally required separation of races. 
    • Integrate: To bring separated races together. 
    • Specter: The idea of a disturbing event. 
  • Transition to the analysis questions. Have students work individually, with partners, or as a whole class to answer the analysis questions.  
  • Scaffolding Note: If there are questions that are not necessary to your students’ learning or time restraints, then you can remove those questions. 
  • Analysis Questions:  
    • How did Elizabeth Eckford’s actions illustrate courage as a civic virtue? 
    • The federal district court ordered Governor Faubus to withdraw the National Guard, which he did. The Little Rock Nine students tried again three weeks later; this time escorted by city police. Protesters soon forced their way into the building, and police escorted the Black students out for their own safety. How do Eckford’s actions illustrate perseverance
    • In response to the crisis, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard. Troops from the 101st Airborne Division assisted in the integration of the high school. In his address to the nation on September 24, 1957, the president said that “mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.” What kinds of respect are lacking when there is “mob rule”? Respect for the law? Respect for the rights of other people? What others? (Optional extension: Find primary sources that provide additional information about these events. Report back to the class on what you found, including a citation of the source or sources that you found.
  • Use the photograph from the Engage: Primary Source Analysis, and ask students the following questions.  
    • The woman pictured screaming racial epithets at Eckford is Hazel Bryan. What virtues are absent in Bryan at that moment? What virtue (s) appears to be absent among the many bystanders in this photograph? 
    • One moment in time was captured in this photograph and may or may not have reflected the full dimension of each of the depicted students’ characters. Yet the people in the photograph must live with what they did on that day. What similar “moment in time” scenarios may exist in your life today? In what situations is it possible that you could do or say something that you can’t take back — and that people may never forget? 
    • How might this photograph have been different — and how might history have been different — if one of the bystanders had acted in defense of Eckford and the other Black students? 

Assess & Reflect

Virtue in Action  

  • Distribute the Virtue in Action Activity to students.  
  • Review directions and allow students time to reflect and answer the prompts.   


Courage Journal Activity  

  • Have students self-reflect and answer the following questions in their journal: 
    • How did Eckford exercise courage to not only stand up for her rights but also the rights of others? Why do you think acting courageously for others is especially important in a free society?  


Sources & Further Reading  

  • Explore the following list for additional sources and further reading on Elizabeth Eckford.  
    • Beals, Melba Pattilo. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High. Washington Square Press, 1995.   
    • Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.   
    • Margolick, David. Elizabeth And Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011.  
    • Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin, 2013.   
    • ‘Elizabeth and Hazel’: The Legacy of Little Rock. 

Virtue Across the Curriculum  

  • Below are corresponding literature suggestions to help you teach about courage across the curriculum. Sample prompts have been provided for the key corresponding works. For the other suggested works, or others that are already part of your curriculum, create your own similar prompts.  
    • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee  
      • Taking a stand for justice is more difficult — and more important — when you must stand alone. How does Atticus Finch display courage in agreeing to defend Tom Robinson? Note: The 1962 film adaptation, directed by Robert Mulligan, is not rated.  
    • Remember the Titans directed by Boaz Yakin (2002) 
      • The film follows the true story of a Black coach and his high school football team during their first season as a racially integrated unit. What role does courage play in the success of the team? Note: This film is rated PG.
    • Amistad directed by Steven Spielberg (1997)  
      • This film follows the true story of an 1839 revolt aboard a Spanish ship La Amistad and the Supreme Court battle to ensure the freedom of the enslaved men on board. What role does courage play in this story? 
    • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
    • Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Student Handouts

Related Resources