Local civil rights pioneer's take on Obama win

November 5, 2008 5:38:39 PM PST
In 1957, when Melba Beals was 15-years-old she was thrust onto the front lines of the civil rights movement. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she faced angry, violent mobs to integrate Central High School in Alabama.

Tuesday night, Beals watched the election returns from her home.

"I was astonished; I had friends at my house for a big dinner and I went to bedroom and just cried becasue it's beyond my comprehension," Beals said.

Beals is now a communications professor at Dominican University in San Rafael.

It has been more than five decades since she faced down death and hatred. Beals has come a long way and feels President-elect Barack Obama's election shows the country has too.

Beals was presented the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, whom she considers a friend.

Obama's election has given her bravery new meaning.

"We had to go to Central High School in 1957 becasue had we not done that, people would not have been ready to receive President-elect Obama. Had we not marched up the front stairs of Central High School, he may not have aspired to march up the front stairs of the White House," Beals said.

Beals thinks Obama's strength will come, not from being black, but being a man of mixed heritage. And although now is a time for celebration, the work is far from done.

"We partied hardy... next week we'll be back in uniform again," she said.

Beals' current project is a study on equality - who has it and who does not.


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