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Melba Joy Patillo Beals
*Melba Joy Patillo Beals was born on this date in 1941. She is a Black journalist, educator, and member of the Little Rock Nine.
Born in Little Rock, Ark., Patillo grew up in a family prioritizing education. Her mother, Lois Marie Pattillo, was one of the first black graduates of the University of Arkansas in 1954 who worked as a middle school English teacher. Her father, Howell Pattillo, worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Her brother, Conrad S. Pattillo, served as U.S. Marshal of the Eastern District of Arkansas during the Clinton administration.
While attending Horace Mann High School in Little Rock, an all-black high segregated school, Patillo became aware she was not receiving the same quality education as her white peers at Central High School. She then volunteered to transfer to the all-white Central High School with eight other black students from Horace Mann and Dunbar Junior High School in Little Rock.
She was 15 years old when she made that choice in May 1956. The nine black students faced mobs that forced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send in the 101st Airborne Division to protect them. Beals planned on returning to Central High for the 1958–1959 school year, but Governor Faubus shut down all Little Rock high schools that failed to resist integration, leading other school districts across the South to do the same. Five days later, the Little Rock Nine were escorted by the 101st airborne division of the U.S. Army into Little Rock’s Central High School to attend classes.
Not until August 1959 did Central High reopen on an integrated basis. In 1959, the NAACP awarded the Spingarn Medal to her and the other members of the Little Rock Nine. Patillo relocated to Santa Rosa, California, with help from the NAACP to complete her senior year of high school at Montgomery High School. She lived with the family of foster parents Dr. George and Carol McCabe. At seventeen, she began writing for major newspapers and magazines. Patillo attended San Francisco State University, earning a bachelor’s degree.
While in college, she met John Beals, who she later married. They had one daughter, Kelli, and later divorced. Around 1992, she adopted twin sons, Matthew and Evan, and resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1999, she and the rest of the Nine received the Congressional Gold Medal. Her book Warriors Don’t Cry chronicles the events of 1957 during the Little Rock crisis, based partly on diaries she kept. She also wrote White is a State of Mind, which begins where the Warriors left off. She later earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.
On May 22, 2009, Beals received her Doctoral Degree in Education at the University of San Francisco. The day she marked USF’s 150th annual commencement ceremony. She taught journalism at the Dominican University of California, where she is the chair emeritus of the communications department.