One of the Little Rock Nine teaches at Bay Area schools


She's not Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but Minnijean Brown-Trickey is an icon of the civil rights movement, even if she's absent from most history books.

"They didn't even mention her name, there was very little information. I feel like every section I look for that talks about African Americans in history is very small," said Taylor Tang, a student.

Now in front of a classroom full of students at Skyline College in San Bruno is a missing chapter, one of what came to be known as the Little Rock Nine.

Then 16-year-old Minnijean and the eight others volunteered to become the first black students to enroll at all-white Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas back in 1957. This happened after the US Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of all the nation's schools. But carrying that out in Arkansas required presidential intervention and federal guards to deal with angry white mobs. It was a pivotal point in the civil rights movement.

"On that first day, watching all that opposition, I said 'Oh, I'm coming back no matter what," said Brown-Trickey.

Her story is one that former Bay Area high school history teacher Jeff Steinberg wanted his students to learn first-hand. So starting in 1999 he began loading up buses and heading down south, stopping to introduce his classes to ordinary people who did extraordinary things during that challenging time.

"I want them to know that at 16, you can take responsibility and you must," said Brown-Trickey.

"When they are no longer here, who's going to continue the legacy if we don't know the stories? [There's] too much pain, too much sacrifice. We need to know the stories so they get passed down from generation to generation," said Steinberg.

So far more than 6,000 students have taken part in his program called "Sojourn To the Past." It was recently honored by first lady Michelle Obama at the White House with a National Arts And Humanities award.

Not everyone can take that bus trip through the South, so the lessons of the civil rights movement have come to a classroom near you. And now, for the first time Brown-Trickey and Steinberg are team teaching a course at three Bay Area colleges, including Akyline.

"I can't explain how honored I am to have her teaching us black history," said Karla Robbins, a student.

"I feel it's an integral part of our history and who we are as a nation. And she is the key," said Karen Vertanen, a student.

This 70-year-old is a living lesson in courage.

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