Ernest Green at the University

Kaitlin Scagluso

We know him from our history books: Ernest Green of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. in 1957. Green was the only senior and the first of the nine African American students to graduate. Green visited the University on April 9 to share his experiences as part of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies Series “The Civil Rights Movement: 50 Years Later.”

Green began his lecture unconventionally by encouraging audience members to take out their cell phones and share his speech across all social networks.

“Dictatorial regimes, social change, and revolutions have all been brought on by social media, so as agents of change I want you to spread it to your network of friends whenever you feel inspired,” Green said.

He then continued by giving a “shout out” to an array of prominent Civil Rights figures—everyone from Harriet Tubman to President Barack Obama.

What truly captivated the crowded room was Green’s discussion of his experiences at Little Rock Central High School. He recounted his distress at the unfairness of “separate but equal.” When the opportunity to attend the formerly white-only high school presented itself, he asked himself “why not?”

“Why let a little thing like segregation stand in the way of opening the world?” Green said.

He discussed his struggle over the course of his senior year of high school and how he convinced himself to finish what he started even on the most difficult of days. He described the experience of a seething mob confronting him as he and the other black students attended their first day of school escorted by paratroopers.

“We learned to lace up our shoes in the morning and prepare for battle,” Green said.

Aside from recounting his own experiences, Green also encouraged the audience to take a stand in their own lives.

“While we can’t all be president, we can all be agents of change. An agent of change is every one of you in this room. It is every person beyond this room. Agents of change came generations before you and will exist generations after you. An agent of change is a single individual with a dream of a better tomorrow, be it for themselves, for future generations to come, or for all of mankind,” Green said.

The Griot Institute’s Series concludes on April 16 at Bucknell Hall with a lecture by human rights activist and former Black Panther member Kathleen Cleaver.

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