OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, THE: 35 YEARS LATER: BLACK & WHITE STUDENT REUNIONS (TV)

Summary

One in this talk show series hosted by Oprah Winfrey.

This episode features Oprah interviewing former schoolchildren in segregated schools from the 1950’s and 1960’s in an attempt to come to a form of reconciliation between them. A video segment details the situation in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, where a group of nine African-Americans attempting to enter Little Rock Central High School in order to integrate into it were barred from doing so by National Guardsmen and by angry white citizens. Their entry into the school caused a riot, forcing the president to send soldiers from an airborne division in order to maintain order. Several of these students, later known as the Little Rock Nine, are interviewed by Oprah, including Terrence Roberts, Melba Pattillo Beals, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls LaNier, and Minnijean Brown-Trickey. Brown-Trickey recalls how she was expelled after the first year after “verbal retaliation after provocation” and regrets that she did not have the opportunity to see her first year through. LaNier recounts the first day at Central High and the presence of the National Guard, noting the climate of fear surrounding them. Roberts notes that it took several weeks and legal action to convince the president to let them into the school in the first place. They recall their first day in the school and how they felt about the soldiers accompanying them, as well as the constant verbal abuse from other students directed at them; they compare the experience as akin to being in a warzone.

Roberts recounts how one white student shared a textbook with him during class, but later she and her family were harassed by the community for doing so; Oprah reveals that the student in question, Robin Woods Loucks, is in the studio and she comes out to reunite with Roberts. Loucks recalls the kinds of retaliation she suffered at the hands of other white students for her display of kindness, and talks about first meeting Roberts, making “a gut-level decision” to help him. Both Roberts and Loucks describe the teacher of that particular class as making them feel safe, in stark contrast to many of the other teachers at Central High. The guests describe the hostility they felt from their other teachers and their efforts to encourage harassment against them. They also describe the mob mentality which overcame many citizens, spurring them to acts of violence and hatred which they otherwise would not have attempted. Oprah then calls up three white former students of Central High, Anne Burleson, Gene Porter, and David Sontag, all of whom admit to being complicit in the display of hatred and racism against the Nine. Sontag recounts an incident between him and Brown-Trickey in which he verbally assaulted her in the cafeteria on a dare, stating that he did it out of “ignorance” and not hate. He states that neither he nor any of his friends truly understood the struggles that the Nine were going through, and regrets taking part in chants opposing them. He also reveals that the incident between him and Brown-Trickey is the reason she was expelled, although he was only suspended. He expresses his apologies towards Brown-Trickey and the others, saying that his friends at the time were his primary influence, and that he was not raised to be racist; he changed his ways once he joined the armed forces and worked alongside African-Americans. The Nine recognize Sontag and are appreciative of his apology.

Porter recounts witnessing many of the physical and verbal abuses suffered by the Nine, but says that he did nothing to stop them. He notes that at the time he was unable to understand the scope of the problem and the impact that the Nine were having on their society. He says that at the time he didn’t comprehend why the Nine and other African-Americans wanted to leave their own schools to join places like Central High. Burleson says that she grew up in a racist household and deeply regrets her efforts to make their time in high school “miserable.” She claims that fear motivated her hatred and that she has felt deep shame in the years since they graduated from high school. She recounts witnessing a gang of white men attempting to overturn a car with an elderly African-American man inside and doing nothing to stop it; she went along with racist chanting despite knowing that it was wrong. She describes the attitudes of her family towards the attempts at integration, and notes that she attempted to reverse them by teaching the viewpoints of tolerance and acceptance to her children. The Nine note that while only a small percentage of the student population actively attacked them, they were also concerned about the indifference and the “great silence” from most of the others.

Oprah also interviews Ruby Bridges Hall, who was one of a handful of young African-American girls attempting to integrate into elementary schools in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960. Hall attempted to integrate into the William Frantz Elementary School at the age of six, but massive protests came about, and Hall and the girls in question were afraid and perplexed as to why they were being attacked. Hall in particular became a symbol of the struggle for civil rights at the time. Many white families withdraw their children from school in protest, although a few allow their children to remain. Hall now works at William Frantz Elementary School as a teacher’s aide, enjoying a great deal of support from the community. Hall recounts her first day at the school and witnessing much of the activity surrounding it. She says that her early days at the school were spent sequestered away from everyone else, and at being the sole member of her first-grade class due to the other parents pulling their children out of school. Hall reunites with her former teacher Barbara Henry, who assisted her in securing her place at the school. Henry talks about how she got hired at the school and her interactions with Hall. Oprah also speaks to Pam Foreman Testrot, who when she was five years old supported Hall’s attempts to integrate; Oprah speaks also to her father, the Reverend Andy Foreman, who also supported Hall by allowing Testrot to attend school with her. Testrot notes that while she did not totally comprehend the situation at the time, she understood that Hall should be able to attend school. Reverend Foreman does not believe that he was acting especially “courageous,” but was doing what he felt was the moral course of action.

Oprah also speaks to Betty Wisdom, who at the time resigned from the school board in order to escort children to school through angry mobs. She recalls that at the time it was against the law for employees of Louisiana public schools to be in favor of integration, and that she felt that “someone had to do something” to help the otherwise-defenseless children. The assembled guests talk about the challenge of the acknowledgement of racism and how to make the first steps to solve it in the modern world. The Nine also discuss the training they received from several civil rights leaders in how to respond to their attackers in nonviolent ways; the specifics of the physical attacks against them are discussed, including being struck or in one case splashed with corrosive acid. The assembled guests give their final thoughts about the nature of racism and how to overcome it. Commercials deleted.

Details

  • NETWORK:
  • DATE: 4:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:44:19
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 121990
  • GENRE: Talk/Interviews
  • SUBJECT HEADING: African-American Collection - News/Talk; TV - Talk/Interviews
  • SERIES RUN: Syndicated - TV series, 1986-2011
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

  • Dianne Atkinson Hudson … Executive Producer
  • David Boul … Senior Producer
  • Alice McGee … Senior Producer
  • Dana Newton … Senior Producer
  • Ellen Rakieten … Senior Producer
  • LeGrande Green … Senior Producer
  • Oprah Winfrey … Supervising Producer
  • Susan Aasen … Producer
  • Pauline Canny … Producer
  • Mary Donahue … Producer
  • Robe Imbriano … Producer
  • Muriel Pearson … Producer
  • Jeanne Carow … Associate Producer
  • Elizabeth Coady … Associate Producer
  • James Kelley … Associate Producer
  • Jill Adams … Associate Producer
  • Kandi Amelon … Associate Producer
  • Judy Banks … Associate Producer
  • Kevin Borenstein … Associate Producer
  • Jim Brady … Associate Producer
  • Dina Cholack … Associate Producer
  • Amy Craig … Associate Producer
  • Lisa Erspamer … Associate Producer
  • Olivia Gerth … Associate Producer
  • Terry Goulder … Associate Producer
  • Margo Green … Associate Producer
  • Lisa Youngblood Hall … Associate Producer
  • Natalie Jason … Associate Producer
  • Angie Kraus … Associate Producer
  • Tara McNally … Associate Producer
  • Lesia Minor … Associate Producer
  • Melinda Morrison … Associate Producer
  • Candi Nichols … Associate Producer
  • Danielle Parker … Associate Producer
  • Laura Grant Sillars … Associate Producer
  • Sarah Walker … Associate Producer
  • Amy Ward … Associate Producer
  • Andrew Wishom … Associate Producer
  • Duke Struck … Director
  • Oprah Winfrey … Host
  • Terrence Roberts … Guest
  • Melba Pattillo Beals … Guest
  • Ernest Green … Guest
  • Thelma Mothershed Wair … Guest
  • Jefferson Thomas … Guest
  • Carlotta Walls LaNier … Guest
  • Minnijean Brown-Trickey … Guest
  • Robin Woods Loucks … Guest
  • Anne Burleson … Guest
  • Gene Porter … Guest
  • David Sontag … Guest
  • Ruby Bridges Hall … Guest
  • Barbara Henry … Guest
  • Pam Foreman Testrot … Guest
  • Andy Foreman … Guest
  • Betty Wisdom … Guest
Continue searching the Collection ➾