This semester, as it happens, I'm teaching a seminar on the 1960's. As is the wont for historians, we begin early, so I spent our first week on general background from the 1950's: the cold war, consumerism, conformity, Christianity, and other things starting with "c". Then we moved on to our first major unit, on the Civil Rights Movement, which we will start in the 1950's (with a few quick glances at earlier events, e.g. the integration of both the US Armed Forces and Major League Baseball in the late 1940's), then continuing into the actual decade along the same topic.
So on Monday, September 6, we spoke about a cluster of the central events of the 1950's Civil Rights Movement: Brown v. Board of Education and the Massive Resistance it sparked; the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and the 1957 Little Rock Crisis. I ended the class by showing my students some of the pictures of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, an integration that, for those of you who don't know, had to be accomplished by the armed forces of the United States. I stressed the extraordinary hate they encountered; and the truly extraordinary bravery and courage they met it with. The Little Rock Nine were genuine American heroes -- a term that is thrown about far too casually, I think, and far too often to anyone who dies or is killed in any remotely military context, regardless of the details. The Little Rock Nine earned it: by standing on the side of Justice and Freedom and Right, with courage and dignity and fortitude.
Little did I know that, the day before, one of the nine, Jefferson Thomas, died.
(As far as I can determine, he is the first of the nine to die.)
Rest in peace.
Update: I've recommended David Margolick's extraordinary article about a different member of the Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford, and the white student who was photographed screaming hatefully at her in the most iconic image of the Little Rock Crisis, Hazel Bryan, before, and at some length; but let me take this opportunity to recommend it to one and all again. It's a fabulous piece of journalist-authored history, and well, well worth reading.