Elizabeth Eckford was never married, despite the popularity and fame she gained as a civil rights activist and one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of students who led the desegregation of a local school in Arkansas. In 1957, her attempt to enter the all-white Central High School while being surrounded by an angry mob led to an intervention by President Dwight Eisenhower to have Elizabeth and the 8 other African-American students join the school.
In the years after the incident, Elizabeth continued to promote civil rights causes, despite the challenges she encountered in her life, including the loss of a son and two suicide attempts.
With all the twists and turns in Elizabeth’s life, here is all we found out about her:
Elizabeth Eckford Never Married
The 82-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, who was born on October 4, 1941, has never been married. From what is available about her love life, Elizabeth lived a fairly normal life without the entanglement of marriage. However, she had other relationships with unidentified men, and this explains how she became a mother to two sons, Erin Eckford and Calvin Oliver.
Her oldest son was born in 1976 with an unidentified father. Two years later, she gave birth to her youngest son, whose father she also did not reveal. She raised her sons as a single mother and took on many jobs to support them, as we shall see later.
Other Facts About the Civil Rights Activist
1. The Little Rock-born and Raised Led the Desegregation in an All-white Southern state
In 1957, Elizabeth Ann Eckford’s life changed forever when she made a name for herself as a civil rights activist. She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the height of the fight against racism. Unsurprisingly, this would become a major part of her life story.
After the US Supreme Court ruled against segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Elizabeth seized the opportunity to get an education at a previously segregated white school.
On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth showed up at Central High School alone, thinking that the other members of the Little Rock Nine would be there. However, this was not the case. There had been a change in plans, but Elizabeth was not informed because she did not have a telephone.
When she attempted to enter the school, she was stopped by the Arkansas National Guard. Things turned ugly quickly, and she was chased by an angry mob. At that point, she made history as the first African-American student to attempt to desegregate a white southern high school.
While the attacks on that day left her with a terrible memory, a photograph of her being pursued by the mob, taken by Will Counts, made her a popular figure in America and internationally. It also brought the attention of the federal government to Little Rock.
2. She Completed her High School Education Through Correspondence
Considering the risks she and the Little Rock Nine took to bring change, Elizabeth had to finish high school through correspondence. During the short time she attended Central High School, Elizabeth was bullied and once thrown down the stairs. Security concerns forced her and the other African-American students to study at night.
While this was happening, the governor of the state closed down all public schools, effectively sealing Elizabeth’s fate of not attending Little Rock Central High School.
After her graduation, Elizabeth attended Knox College but dropped out to be close to her family. However, her desire for education pushed her to Central State University in Ohio, where she graduated with a degree in history.
3. Elizabeth Started her Career as a Pay Clerk in the US Army
Years after Elizabeth Eckford made history in Little Rock, she faced the reality of making a living. She started out as a pay clerk with the US Army, where she worked for five years. She used the checks she received to take care of her sons and other needs, as mentioned earlier.
She also wrote for the Fort McClellan and Fort Benjamin Harrison newspapers, notably. After her time with the army, Eckford found a way to make a living by working as a waitress, history teacher, welfare worker, interviewer, and military reporter.
4. She Has Suffered Tragedies in Her Life
While the well-known details about her life seem to be all-rosy, in reality, Elizabeth Eckford has suffered her share of traumas and tragedies like every human being. On January 1, 2003, her oldest son, Erin Eckford, was reported dead. This was one of the worst days of her life.
Based on the events of that day, Erin was shot and killed by the police after they unsuccessfully tried to disarm him after he fired several rounds from his rifle.
Perhaps due to her experience with civil rights abuses, Elizabeth feared that her son’s death was suicide by police. She also revealed that Erin had suffered from mental illness and at the time he was off his medications. The matter was later laid to rest after a police investigation concluded that the shooting was justified.
The civil rights activist has also suffered from trauma dating back to the events of 1957. Over the next several years, finding herself struggling with the bullying she experienced, she attempted suicide twice. While time is said to heal all wounds, Elizabeth was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Thankfully, she has not allowed this to affect her fight for civil rights as she travels across the country to speak with students.
5. Elizabeth and One of Her Pursuers Reconciled 40 Years After the Events in Little Rock
As mentioned earlier, Eckford was snapped in an award-winning photograph, but that is not all that captured the attention of many; it was another angry white student, later identified as Hazel Bryan Massery, in the background.
While Hazel was a segregationist at the time, she later changed her mind and even apologized for her role in driving Eckford away from the Little Rock school. In fact, they reconciled in 1997, forty years after the incident.
Counts was able to take another photograph of the reconciled older women. Following this, they became friends for a short time before parting ways due to the deep pains of racism from their past. Nevertheless, although they are no longer close, the two are known to have received recognition, including:
- Winning the Father Joseph Blits Award in 1997
- Making speeches at the reconciliation rally in 1997
- Appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show
6. Eckford later became a Probation Officer
Having tried different career hats, Eckford managed to always make herself useful when she left one job. In 2007, she was working as a probation officer in Arkansas. Apparently, the job was given to her by a Black judge who felt she had not been appreciated well enough for her sacrifices.
7. Eckford Told her Account of the Incident in a 2018 Book
Having been in the public eye for many years, Elizabeth finally told her story in her book, titled The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Little Rock Central High School. She co-authored the book with Dr. Eurydice Stanley and 15-year-old Grace Stanley.
For the first time, she contributed to the writing of her account of what happened over 60 years earlier.
Aside from her account, her story has been immortalized in works like:
- The Ernest Green Story(1993)
- Drunk History(2019)