In 1954, history was made when the Supreme Court decided to end school segregation. In September 1957, nine black teenagers were sent to integrate Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, but crowds of angry protesters tried to stop them. The governor of Arkansas called on the National Guard, not to protect the students, but to block them from entering the school.
It took three weeks and 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division—sent to Little Rock by President Dwight D. Eisenhower—to get these brave black students inside a classroom at Central. But, once inside the schoolhouse, "the Little Rock Nine" as they were called found that their struggles for respect and equality had only just begun.
In 1995, seven of Little Rock Nine—Dr. Terrence Roberts, Ernest Green, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls-LaNier, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Thelma Mothershed Wair and Melba Pattillo Beals—came together on The Oprah Show to discuss what it was like to integrate a white high school in the South. Throughout the show, the Little Rock Nine were reunited with white students who were allies and tormentors during their high school years.
Oprah said hearing their stories of struggle and triumph was truly inspirational. "I wanted to say to all of you a thank-you because I often, in speeches, say that people who've come before me are the bridges that I crossed over on," Oprah said. "The Little Rock Nine was a big bridge for me because had that not happened, what happened in television 15 to 20 years later could not have happened. All of the other progress that so many of us now enjoy, you guys were the pioneers. You guys were the bridge. A mighty big bridge for me. Thank you."