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Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock

2011 nonfiction book by David Margolick

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An unlikely, fragile and extremely complicated relationship would ensue.

  • Apr 17, 2012
On September 4, 1957 Will Counts was just a guy out there doing his job. Will was a photographer for the "Arkansas Democrat" afternoon newspaper and he had been assigned to cover a momentous and potentially explosive event. For on that very morning Little Rock Central High School was slated to admit its first black students. The plan was for the nine brave young men and women who would come to be known as the "Little Rock Nine" to walk through the front doors of the school in solidarity. But due to a miscommunication fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford walked to school all by herself that fateful morning. She would be the first to arrive and when she did all hell broke loose. Nothing could have prepared her for what was about to transpire. Elizabeth was greeted by a large crowd of bystanders, curiosity-seekers and hell-raisers. Most disapproved of the court order and wanted to maintain the status quo. National Guard troops surrounded the building. Racial epithets were flying and the National Guardsmen refused to let her walk into the building. The situation was a powder keg. Not knowing what to do next Elizabeth started walking down the street. Several white youngsters followed closely behind some taunting her. Will Counts patiently waited in hopes of capturing for posterity the scene that best captured the moment. Then "click". Within a matter of hours Counts and his associates at the newspaper realized that they had a photograph of momentous significance....one picture that captured the essence and the emotion of that very moment for all the world to see. That photograph would land on the doorsteps of millions of people around the world. The lives of courageous black student Elizabeth Eckford and angry white heckler Hazel Bryan would never be the same again. "Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock" recalls that historic day and the impact it had on the nation and on the lives of two teenagers who were thrust into the spotlight. David Margolick's book is a compelling read indeed. I simply could not put it down!

For those too young to remember "Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock" offers a riveting play-by-play of the heartbreaking events that took place in Little Rock on that fateful September morning. But this story has been told in any number of excellent books. Clearly, the primary thrust of "Elizabeth and Hazel" is to illustrate how this incident would ultimately affect the lives of the two main subjects of the Will Counts photograph. David Margolick does a workmanlike job of peeling away the many layers of this incredible story. You will discover how as individuals Elizabeth and Hazel coped with the hands that they had been dealt. While that proved to be interesting enough the most compelling portion of the book is a period of time when Elizabeth and Hazel actually became friends. You will discover how that all came about and why this relationship was built on extremely shaky ground.

While reading "Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock" you will likely experience the full range of emotions. Others have attempted to tell this story in the past but were unable to get the job done. David Margolick has come through with flying colors! "Elizabeth and Hazel" is at once a thoughtful, entertaining and well-written book. What more can you ask for? Very highly recommended.

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation—in Little Rock and throughout the South—and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.

In this gripping book, David Margolick tells the remarkable story of two separate lives unexpectedly braided together. He explores how the haunting picture of Elizabeth and Hazel came to be taken, its significance in the wider world, and why, for the next half-century, neither woman has ever escaped from its long shadow. He recounts Elizabeth’s struggle to overcome the trauma of her hate-filled school experience, and Hazel’s long efforts to atone for a fateful, horrible mistake. The book follows the painful journey of the two as they progress from apology to forgiveness to reconciliation and, amazingly, to friendship. This friendship foundered, then collapsed—perhaps inevitably—over the same fissures and misunderstandings that continue to permeate American race relations more than half a century after the unforgettable photograph at Little Rock. And yet, as Margolick explains, a bond between Elizabeth and Hazel, silent but complex, endures.

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