Friday, August 12, 2011

The Tale of Elizabeth and Hazel -- Updated and Longer

Four years ago I wrote a post plugging a magazine article about these two women:

The young African American girl is named Elizabeth Eckford, and she was one of the Little Rock Nine -- nine heroic high-school students who endured incredible things to integrate Little Rock Central High School (with the help of armed federalized troops) in 1957-1958. This incredibly famous picture of her is from what was supposed to be her first day at Little Rock Central High, when she got separated from her eight fellows and walked alone into a mob of segregationists. The young woman behind her, who was immortalized in this posture of hatred, is named Hazel Bryan Massery. It's one of the classic photos from the Civil Rights Movement, about one of the central events of that world-changing struggle.

In point of fact, it's two of the classic photos, because (although the fact is little-known), the incident in question was captured twice -- perhaps both by Will Counts, perhaps by two different news photographers. (Counts definitely took one of the two, which was named by the AP as one of the top 100 photos of the century, although I'm not certain which, because I've seen both of the images labeled as Counts's photo!) At any rate, here's the other version:

So far as I can tell, they were taken at almost the precise same moment -- note that the woman who turned to look behind her, clearly visible in the upper photograph to the left of the screaming Hazel, is also looking behind her in the lower photograph (half-hidden behind Elizabeth from the second angle). This seems to belie the claim I've seen made that Counts took both of them. On the other hand, maybe the woman behind Elizabeth, next to Hazel was simply carrying on a conversation with someone behind her, and turned around twice. And since it wasn't a planned event, the notion that one photographer happened to be there seems more plausible than that there were two. But I'm not sure. Anyone have any information on the provenance of these two images?

It's interesting to compare the two -- the subtle differences conveyed by different angles is fascinating. (Hazel's face in particular changes -- she's screaming and full of hate in both, but she looks wilder and closer to the edge of violence in the latter.) I think the top one is better purely as an image, but the latter one better captures Elizabeth's isolation and danger and bravery. I guess it's good to have both.

But life is odd, and it turns out that Hazel eventually apologized, became friends with Elizabeth -- and then had a falling out with her. The incredible, complex story was told in this incredible article in Vanity Fair by reporter David Margolick, which I recommend no less strongly today than I did four years ago when I first read it. It's a fabulous recounting of a key, powerful piece of the American story.

But I bring this up not just because the article is a perennial (although it is), nor because I'm about to start teaching my seminar on the 1960's in a month or so (although I am), but because its author, David Margolick, saw my post and was kind enough to write and tell me that he's expanded the article into a full-length book, which will be published by Yale University Press one month from today, under the title Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. If the book is anything like as good as the article, it'll be a terrific read, one which will speak to the history both of the Civil Rights Movement and to the complex racial landscape of post-CRM America. I don't know too much about how the book was updated, although apparently Margolick was able to interview Hazel more than the first time around.

Anyway, check out the article. (Vanity Fair's site seems a bit twitchy, so if that link doesn't work, try here.) Then, if you're so inclined, you can pre-order the book from Amazon here, or Powells here. Margolick's official web site is here. It's a powerful tale in the shorter form, and I have high expectations that it will be even better in the long.

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