Skip to Main Content

Elizabeth Eckford, the Little Rock Nine, and Respect

Why is respect important in a society that values individual liberty? 

Explore the concept of civil discourse with an emphasis on respect by tracing the experience of Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine. 

  • Civil Discourse
  • Respect
  • Courage
  • Perseverance
  • Desegregation
  • Segregation

Margolick, David. Elizabeth And Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011.

‘Elizabeth and Hazel’: The Legacy of Little Rock.

Define Respect: To protect your mind and body as precious aspects of your identity.  To extend that protection to every other person you encounter. 

Before launching a brief, introductory discussion, set a key ground rule:  

  • Only those present may be topics of discussion, and only with their permission.

Ask students how this simple ground rule is a way of showing respect to others.

Ask students: “Have you ever embarrassed or even humiliated yourself, or been embarrassed or humiliated by someone else, in a fairly public way?” (Students’ responses may include in-person or social media experiences.)

Follow up with:

  • What made it awkward? Difficult?
  • What was your reaction at the time? How did you handle it afterward?
  • If an apology was needed, was it offered? Why or why not? What makes apologies difficult in those circumstances? How does offering an apology show respect? Do any other civic virtues play a part?
  • If you were in this situation, or in another one, the person who has ever “learned a lesson the hard way” by being the one who embarrassed or hurt another person, what exactly is the lesson you learned?
  • Refer to the word responsibility—along with its definition—that you posted earlier.
  • Ask: How is everything we’ve just been discussing related to this definition of respect?
  • How is respect related to civil discourse?
  • How does the freedom we have in our society sometimes lead to these kinds of situations?

Individually analyze two different photos of Elizabeth Eckford walking up to Central High School;

  1. Describe the people in the photograph. Whom do you see? • Observe various individuals’ posture and gestures. What does this tell you about what is happening? • Look at the clothing and hairstyles to identify the time period when this photograph was likely taken. • Given your response to the questions above, identify the general place (region, country) where you believe it could have been taken. • Based on what you see in the photograph, your existing knowledge of history, and inferences based on both, identify the historical period during which this photograph was taken.
  2. What do you already know about the historical period this photograph depicts? How does that inform your understanding of the photograph?
  3. Identify and describe the one or two people who are the focal points of these photographs.
  4. Does this photograph illustrate or respect –or lack of respect? How? How does this inform your understanding of this time period and the situation in the photograph?

Hold a class discussion using questions from the When Free Speech and Respect Collide activity. 

Read background information about Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine using Elizabeth Eckford, the Little Rock Nine, and Purpose Narrative.  Break students up into pairs to discuss the photos again with perspective using the Elizabeth Eckford, The Little Rock Nine, and Respect Discussion Guide.  Reconvene the class to discuss what stood out to them.   

Virtue in Action- Elizabeth Eckford, the Little Rock Nine, and Respect 

Think about ways you can show respect to yourself and others in your daily life. 

  • Protect your mind and body as precious parts of who you are. Extend that protection to every other person you encounter. 
  • Treat your family members, teachers, school administrators, and others who have just authority over you with respect. 
  • Listen and give due consideration to the views of others. 
  • Defend just claims. 
  • Stand up for the rights and dignity of others. 

Assign students to listen to the audio from the Weekend Edition to further explore the picture and relationship between Elizabeth and Hazel.  Have the students consider parallels between the story of Elizabeth and Hazel with the current social justice movements with an emphasis on showing respect. 

For additional inspiration, you may research the lives of the Little Rock Nine: Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray, Minnijean Brown, and Ernest Green. 

Student Handouts

Related Resources