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Group says struggle for access to opportunity continues

September 25, 1997

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Black teen-agers who enrolled at Central High School 40 years ago while bayonet-bearing federal troops guarded them from an angry white mob say their battle for equality has not been won.

``The nine of us represent possibilities. That’s the story we want to present,″ said Ernest Green, a Washington investment banker who became Central’s first black graduate 40 school years ago.

``This is about a continued struggle. The payoff is a lot of little stories,″ Green said.

Eight of the nine blacks who faced violent crowds and a hostile governor to break Central’s color barrier in 1957 appeared together at a downtown hotel Wednesday as part of a week of activities commemorating the event. President Clinton is scheduled to appear with the group at the school Thursday.

But on the eve of the anniversary, the state NAACP, which was instrumental in the integration of Central High, said it would not participate in the festivities because of continuing problems with the city.

``Very few changes have occurred since 1957,″ said Dale Charles, president of the civil rights group’s state chapters.

Charles said city officials have ignored the NAACP’s requests that blacks benefit more from city contracts and tax initiatives. The group also wants a citizen board to investigate allegations of police brutality toward blacks.

``In our minds, there isn’t anything that the African American community has to celebrate,″ Charles said.

Melba Patillo Beals, a journalist and author from San Francisco, said the commemoration was not meant to be a declaration of victory.

``What we’re celebrating is as the second phase of a war,″ Ms. Beals said. The battle won’t be won, she added, ``until we all can see equal and be seen as equal.″

Clinton, as governor, first welcomed the nine to Central in 1987 as the city marked the 30th year since President Eisenhower used federal troops to enforce a court desegregation order.

His speech Thursday is part of Clinton’s crusade to improve race relations, an endeavor that one of the nine, Terrence Roberts, said was important for the president to undertake.

``He should set a tone, provide direction, influence, as far as possible,″ Roberts said. ``If President Clinton can do that ... he will have done an excellent job. To the degree that he does not do that, he will have failed, in my opinion.″

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