LITTLE ROCK, AR - For the nine black students who integrated Central High School in 1957, the car ride to class often served as their only moment of group refuge.
Protected behind windows and steele, Melba Pattillo Beals remembers the rides as therapeutic, with fellow student Ernest Green making a gallows joke about no "seeing the welcome wagon" when the nine arrived at the school.
Sometimes, the students would just sit in silence, whether in a family member's car or an Army jeep, waiting for the torment and their classmates to turn their backs on them. Beals calls it a "time of soul mending."
The nine spoke to news reporters from around the world yesterday in advance of the 50th anniversary commemoration events at Central High School this week. Their hair grayed and faces creased by time, they said a lot has changed, especially in Little Rock.