Bitters in the Honey


Tales of Hope and Disappointment across Divides of Race and Time
Beth Roy
978-1-55728-554-6 (paper)
October 1999


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The story of what happened at Little Rock’s Central High School in September of 1957 is one with which most Americans are familiar. Indeed, the image of Central High’s massive double staircase—and of nine black teenagers climbing that staircase, clutching their schoolbooks, surrounded by National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets—has become wedded in the American consciousness to the history of the civil-rights struggle in this country. The world saw the drama at Central High as a cautionary tale about power and race.
Drawing on oral histories, Beth Roy tells the story of Central High from a fresh angle. Her interviews with white alumni of Central High investigate the reasons behind their resistance to desegregation. The alumni, now near retirement age, discuss their lives since Central High and their present insecurities and resentments. The stories tell of the shaping of white identities in the latter half of the twentieth century, of dissatisfaction, even anger, that still lingers after forty years.
Our country has not moved beyond matters of race: we have not left intolerance behind. To do so, Roy believes, we must stop demonizing people whose actions, historical or current, we do not fully understand. This elegantly written treatment of the Central High crisis is unique among studies done to date. It will help readers to better comprehend the complexity of racism, not only as it was evidenced at Central High in 1957, but as it continues to impact our lives today.

Beth Roy, a trained sociologist and practicing therapist, has published several books on social conflict, including Some Trouble With Cows and On a Tree of Trouble. A recipient of a National Science Foundation Grant and a grant from the Fund for Research in Dispute Resolution, she delivered the final paper at the Little Rock Crisis symposium, forty years after the events at Central High.