Warriors Don't Cry

Melba Pattillo Beals’s Warriors Don’t Cry, published in 1994, is a first-person account of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Melba Pattillo was born on December 7, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Lois Marie Pattillo, PhD, and Howell Pattillo. In 1957, she was one of the Little Rock Nine, nine Black students who volunteered to integrate Central High School. She spent her senior year, when Little Rock’s high schools were closed during what is known as the Lost Year, at a high school in California. After her marriage and divorce, Melba Pattillo Beals earned a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1973, and an EdD from the University of San Francisco in 2009. Beals has worked as a newspaper and television reporter, a talk show host, an educator, and an author.

In Warriors Don’t Cry, Beals focuses on her experiences as a Black child in segregated Arkansas and recounts the events surrounding the integration of Central High School in 1957–1958. From her near death as an infant due to neglect by a white hospital’s staff to the indignity of being told she could not enjoy the public pool during the heat of summer, the events Beals shares draw readers’ attention to a need for change in Arkansas. The narrative also sets the stage for the violent actions of the white mob outside of Central High and the students within it. Beals’s vivid and intense portrayal of the physical, emotional, and psychological violence experienced by her and the other members of the Little Rock Nine offers a compelling glimpse into what happened within Central.

The memoir was well received across the country, including by such prominent outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post, and earned star reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Reviewers found the book heartbreaking and depressing, yet captivating and uplifting, and thought it was story every American should read. The only criticism was minor: despite the fact that Beals was using diary entries, news headlines, and notes from family members, a couple of reviewers were concerned about the exactness of dialogue that happened over thirty-five years before publication.

In 1995, the book won the American Library Association’s Nonfiction Notable Book Award. It was also a runner-up for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, which honors outstanding reporting on human rights, social justice, and the power of individual action. Warriors Don’t Cry has been used and adapted by educators to teach literacy skills, history, and civics, as well as for anti-bullying campaigns and to develop students’ empathy.

White Is a State of Mind: A Memoir (1999), considered a sequel to Warriors Don’t Cry, continues Beals’s story through the Lost Year, her move to California because the Ku Klux Klan put a price on her head, living with a white family, attending high school and college, her marriage and early family life, and her entrance into Columbia. March Forward Girl (2018), a prequel to Warriors Don’t Cry, describes more situations she faced as a Black child in 1940s and 1950s Arkansas. I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith under Fire (2018) connects Beals’s struggles for equality and freedom to her ongoing spiritual growth and faith. Each chapter details a life event that tested Beals’s beliefs and ends with a spiritual lesson.

Beals’s memoir has been adapted several times. Tantor Audio published an audiobook version in 2011, read by Lisa Renee Pitts, that won the 2013 Young Adult Library Services Association’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults award. It has also been adapted for the stage: in 2008, it was used as a script by Audra Pace for Read, a classroom magazine for children sixth grade to tenth grade, and in 2021, it became a one-woman musical by Donnetta Lavinia Grays with original music composed by Toshi Reagon and commissioned by the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and TheatreWorks USA.

Christopher Parker and Kelley Hurt, commissioned by the Oxford American magazine and inspired by Warriors Don’t Cry, composed No Tears Suite: A Monumental Ode to the Little Rock Nine for jazz ensemble. It was first performed in 2017 at the sixtieth anniversary of Central High’s desegregation, and Parker, Hurt, and Rufus Reid arranged the suite to include parts for symphonic orchestra in 2019 in collaboration with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. The Arkansas-based label Mahakala Music released the suite on CD in September 2020.

For additional information:
Beals, Melba Pattillo. I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Revel, 2018.

———. March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

———. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High. New York: Pocket Books, 1994.

———. White Is a State of Mind: A Memoir. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999.

Chambers, Sandra J. “Readin’, Writin’, and Riotin’.” The English Journal 84, no. 5 (1995): 121–122.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center. Little Rock, Arkansas. https://www.nps.gov/chsc/index.htm (accessed November 19, 2021).

Martin, Karen. “Civil Rights, Set to Music.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 17, 2019. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/feb/17/civil-rights-set-to-music-20190217/ (accessed November 19, 2021).

“Melba Beals 1998 Interview.” Integrating Central High School: The Melba Pattillo Story. Scholastic. http://teacher.scholastic.com/barrier/hwyf/mpbstory/melchat.htm (accessed November 19, 2021).

“No Tears Suite with ASO.” Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. March 6, 2021. https://vimeo.com/520396429 (accessed November 19, 2021).

“Warriors Don’t Cry.” Read 57 (February 8, 2008): 4–13.

“Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High.” Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1994. Online at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/melba-pattillo-beals/warriors-dont-cry/ (accessed November 19, 2021).

Autumn Mortenson
Ouachita Baptist University (OBU)


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