Little Rock 9 member celebrates 80th birthday with students

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine Black students who first integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957, celebrated her 80th birthday at the school with the help of about a dozen students.

The students, who are members of the Civil Rights Memory Project, lined the sidewalk in front of the high school on Monday, holding handwritten signs.

“It’s an honor to be here to celebrate with her, because she did so much for our school,” Destiny Logan, a senior, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The number of students participating was kept small and they were told not to clap or make loud noises, as they gathered outside the same school where an angry mob of protesters had met Eckford and eight other Black students in 1957. After President Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops to protect the nine students, they began their first full day on Sept. 25, 1957.

Images of the nine Black teens became among the most indelible of the civil rights movement, including one of Eckford calmly walking into school as a teen girl behind her shouts.

A teacher sang “Amazing Grace,” and the students sang “Happy Birthday” to Eckford. Students and other guests took turns taking pictures with her and telling her stories.

“It was the best birthday I had in a long, long time,” Eckford said.