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It’s unlikely you’ve heard of Grace Lorch. Unless you are a serious student of Arkansas history, her name likely doesn’t register. But when Grace Lorch helps Elizabeth Eckford in 1957, she changed history. Grace Lorch is a superb example of how regular people, almost unknown today, contributed to the Civil Rights Movement.

The main event in which Lorch took part was the story of the Little Rock Nine. Recall, these were the nine African American high school students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, interfered to prevent integration. President Dwight Eisenhower had to send paratroopers to Little Rock to allow the Little Rock Nine into the school. The paratroopers had to stay on to protect the students from harassment.

Why Grace Lorch Helps Elizabeth Eckford

Lorch’s role in the story comes from the aid she gave to Elizabeth Eckford. For more details about Elizabeth Eckford and her amazing story, please read my blog post about her by clicking here. Suffice it to say here that Elizabeth was one of the Little Rock Nine. But on the first day of school she arrived separately from the other eight students. (Their meeting place had changed, but Eckford’s family had no telephone. She didn’t know of the change.)

This meant Eckford had to face the howling mob of racist students and their parents alone. She was only fifteen years old. This incident spawned the iconic photograph of Hazel Bryan screaming at Eckford in rage.

Lorch got involved when Eckford, realizing the Arkansas National Guard wasn’t going to let her into the school, retreated to a city bus stop that was off campus. Not satisfied with the terror they’d already produced, the mob followed Eckford to rain down more abuse on her. Some shouted for a lynching.

That’s when Grace Lorch put her arm around Eckford. Lorch shouted back at the crowd, telling it “Leave this child alone! Why are you tormenting her? Six months from now, you will hang your heads in shame.” She then boarded the bus with Eckford and tried to comfort her.

Time Magazine covered the desegregation of Central High School, where Grace Lorch helps Elizabeth Eckford.Time Magazine covered the desegregation of Central High School, where Grace Lorch helps Elizabeth Eckford.

Consequences After Grace Lorch Helps Elizabeth Eckford

This simple act of kindness changed Lorch’s life for the worst. State and federal officials began harassing her for communist activities. (Her husband, a college mathematics professor, was harassed as well.) Three weeks later she had to stand in front of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and answer to accusations of communism.

Her response was perfect. When James Eastland, the conservative racist senator from Mississippi, asked her about being a communist, Lorch answered, “We all know well what Mr. Eastland means by communism.” As I’ve blogged about many times before, conservative Southern racists equated civil rights activity with communism. Communism was evil. So, if they could convince people communists were behind the Civil Rights Movement, they could defeat the movement and seem heroic in the process.

This level of harassment of Lorch soon escalated. The Arkansas Attorney General investigated the Lorches. Governor Faubus accused them of being communist subversives. Arkansas representative Thomas Alford denounced Lorch as a communist functionary on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Response

The Lorches were not new to the Civil Rights Movement in 1957. They’d been active for several years. But this was the first public incident that put them on the radar of powerful segregationists. (They had, for instance, previously tried to send their white daughter to a black elementary school in Little Rock. The school board wouldn’t allow it.)

Before it was over, the Lorches left Arkansas to escape persecution. After one year in Connecticut, they moved to Canada. They hoped, perhaps, the persecution would end. But it didn’t. The attorney general of Arkansas supplied Canadian authorities with dirt on their supposed communist activities. Even after leaving the country, they still suffered at the hands of conservative Southern racists. It’s a great example of how Southern authorities ruined the lives of many in the name of upholding their segregated society.

All because Grace Lorch helped a frightened teenage girl when no one else would.

 

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I need your help. The world is aflame with misleading information peddled by websites and media personalities to anger audiences and pervert a common understanding of history. If you’ve read this far, you know this blog is about scholarship, not fueling distrust and division. Please subscribe and help me share accurate views on history.

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The post Grace Lorch Helps Elizabeth Eckford appeared first on Rob Bauer Books.

This content was originally published here.

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