The Little Rock Nine: How Much of What They Did Really Matters Any More?

101st Airborne Division escorting the Little Rock Nine inside Little Rock Central High School. Public domain.

In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” which led to the integration of public schools in the United States.  In 1959, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine African American students were the first students to integrate Central High School.

On Thursday evening, at the LBJ Presidential Library, School of Public Affairs, in Austin, Texas, three members of the “Little Rock Nine,” Ernest Green, Carlotta Walls LaNier, and Terrence Roberts, recalled their experiences entering those halls of following that momentous decision.

The students had to be escorted to the door by 101st Airborne Division and once inside the doors, they still had to be escorted to be safe from retaliation from the white students.  But even then it wasn’t as safe as it should have been.

With a sense of humor, wisdom and grace they told us the easy things to hear; the more horrific things they kept to themselves.  Even though they were assigned lockers, they had to carry their books and papers with them to every class because the lockers would be broken into and its contents destroyed.  They had to walk down the hallways with their backs toward the wall or they risked being hit or kicked in the back.  And Ms. LaNier herself said that her nemesis made it a point to walk on the back of her heels until they bled.

They endured terrible things just to get an education.

American children of all backgrounds today have absolutely no idea how good they have it.  Not only that but they’re squandering it.  I’m painting a picture in very broad strokes but here, but all across the spectrum of humanity, no only do we have children who skip school just because but, and this is terrible, others are encouraged to skip by their parents who either want them to do other things or just because:

  • My Dude works in the transit industry and he has witnessed firsthand African American high school kids who are trying to get to school arguing with their parents who want them to do something else.
  • I’ve had conversations with someone who personally knows a white parent who wanted their early elementary aged child to stay home from school simply because they missed the child and wanted them around.
  • I know white parents who take their kids out of school just to take a vacation.
  • Recently a segment aired on a morning radio talk show about truancy.  One area school district employee called in and said that in her school district, when they tracked down truant students, they found a good deal of them at home with a parent.  The student was neither sick nor were they absent from school because of a lack of transportation as evidenced by nearby transit or a working vehicle in the driveway.
  • And the worst:  there is a predominantly African American high school in my area that has a chronically terrible record of attendance.

Pardon me, but what the h*** is wrong with this us?

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai, youngest Nobel peace prize winner.

Is this how we teach our young people of the value of education?

This laissez faire not going to school thing?  I think that’s a slap in the face to the Little Rock Nine.  It’s a slap in the face to Malala Yousafzai and every other girl in Pakistan or Nigeria or anywhere else who is doing everything they can to get an education.  It’s a slap in the face to anyone anywhere who is striving to better themselves through education.

But that’s not all.  Thursday night I was extremely saddened, distressed and dismayed that amid an audience of nearly 900, I could count on two hands how many African American people came out to listen to the men and women of their culture who, as teens, held their heads high and walked with courage and fortitude through previously unattainable halls so they could better themselves.  So all African American students who came after them could better themselves through education.

I can’t help but wonder whether or not they think what the Little Rock Nine did really matters any more.

The Little Rock Nine are a lesson in courage and determination and we all can learn from them.  I don’t claim to be an expert in all the reasons why our children do not attend school as much as they should and I admit that certainly at times there are extenuating circumstances. I also believe that our education policies are not the best and there’s always room for improvement.  However, education is a growing and learning process and no matter where we are, there are always opportunities out there to take the next step and further ourselves.

But when I look around and see what I see and hear what I hear, I have to ask how much anyone thinks education really matters any more.


The Little Rock Nine® Foundation

The Little Rock Nine® Foundation was created to promote the ideals of justice and equality of opportunity for all.  Forged in the crucible of fierce opposition to the educational pursuits of nine young black children, the Foundation is dedicated to the proposition that racist ideology will not dictate educational policies and practices in the 21st Century.

Too many children still do not have access to adequate educational opportunities in the 21st Century.  Because of their struggles for a quality education, the Little Rock Nine members, through their Little Rock Nine® Foundation, are committed to assuring that our youth, especially children of color, are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to become future leaders.

The mission of the Little Rock Nine® Foundation is to provide direct financial support and a mentorship program for students to help them reach their educational goals.

Further, it is our mission to encourage young people to take executive responsibility for their education, to step forward boldly and seize any available opportunity to expand awareness and understanding.  The Foundation seeks to create a viable link between young learners and those who offer support for their efforts.

Driving Old Roads to Reach Back In Time

El Camino Real Marker provided by the Daughter's of the American Revolution.  Courtesy Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia
El Camino Real Marker provided by the Daughter’s of the American Revolution. Courtesy Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia

I love old roads.  I love poring over old maps and seeing where the original roads went.  I especially love driving those old roads because it takes me back to a time before our modern interstate highways were built and it makes me wonder what those previous drivers thought and felt and experienced.

I also love driving them to see if can reach back through the years and make some kind of connection with those previous travelers.

Way back in the day, over a hundred years before before Mexico gained her independence from Spain in 1821, a road was created that connected Mexico City to Natchitoches, Louisiana.  It was called the El Camino Real (the King’s Highway) and it went north out of Mexico City through Saltillo and Monclova to cross the Rio Grande River near present day Guerrero, Coahuila.  From there it passed near Cotulla and Poteet and entered San Antonio and continued northeast through San Marcos, Bastrop, Bryan/College Station, Nacogdoches, and San Augustine to the Sabine River where it crossed at Gaines Ferry to end at Los Ades, the capital of Tejas on the northeast frontier of New Spain.  Los Ades is gone now, having been swallowed up by present day Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Factoid:  The El Camino Real in Texas was also known by other names: Camino Real de los Tejas, Camino Pita, Camino Arriba, Camino de en Medio, King’s Highway or the Old San Antonio Road.

El Camino Real Texas AlmanacThe El Camino Real, or whatever you want to call it, was actually one of many roads and they all were major arteries for travel northward into Texas from Mexico.  They served as a lifeline for the missions by enabling the transport of freight supplies and military protection.   Later, its path from the Brazos to the Trinity rivers helped defuse the threat of Indian nations armed by and loosely allied to the French and transformed those groups into an uneasy buffer between the divergent cultures.

Settlements established along the road were among the state’s earliest cities and communities.  During the 18th century Spanish ranchers conducted travel drives along the route from Texas to Saltillo, Coahuila. In the 19th century, the road enabled immigration from the United States.  In 1820, Moses Austin, father of Stephen F. Austin, traversed it en route to San Antonio to request an empresario grant from the Spanish government.

Parts of these roads were not only used for travel, they also formed some of the earliest political boundaries. Near San Antonio for example, it once separated thousands of acres of ranch land claimed by the missions of Espada and San José. In the 19th century, it formed the boundary of many empresario grants throughout Texas and later, it became the county line of many of the state’s first subdivisions.

The ruts of the trail can still be found in many areas.

El Camino Real, East Texas.  Courtesy Christopher Talbot, via National Park Service
El Camino Real, East Texas. Courtesy Christopher Talbot, via National Park Service

In my neck of the woods, below the confluence of the Blanco and San Marcos rivers near present-day San Marcos, a portion of the old road and its river crossing were identified in 1991. Several years later at the crossing, archaeologists located the remains of the first townsite of San Marcos, San Marcos de Neve, which was established near the end of the Spanish Colonial period.

San Marcos River
El Camino Real crossing at the San Marcos River

Nowadays the original El Camino Real still mostly exists as a current roadway.  Other parts, because of the shifting of property, are now either on private property or in a national park area, but there is a “new road” close by that took the place of the old.  So if you’re someone like me who likes to take the old roads and reach back into the shadowy folds of time, you can still do so.

There is no longer a direct link from Guerrero, Coahuila to Cotulla, Texas.  However from Cotulla one can get to Poteet then San Antonio via a series of lesser state highways.  Once in San Antonio, Interstate Highway 35 can be taken to San Marcos where you’ll need to jog east on Texas Highway 80 for just a minute or so until you reach Texas Highway 21.  From there just stay on 21 until you approach Bryan/College Station where you’ll come across a road called the OSR, which stands for Old San Antonio Road.  It’s a nice little segment that skirts north around the area and re-joins Texas 21 to the northeast.

Factoid: In Texas, every single road under the state’s jurisdiction has an official number. We have Farm to Market Roads (FM), Ranch to Market Roads (RM) and state highways such as Texas 21.  They all are known officially by a number, save one:  the OSR in the Bryan/College Station area.

Once back on Texas 21 keep on until you reach Louisiana.  There it turns into Louisiana Highway 6 which will take you Natchitoches.

I mapped it out the best I could using Google Maps and the total distance from Mexico City is only 1375 miles; not quite half of that, 628 miles, is from the Rio Grande River to Natchitoches, Louisiana.  Imagine riding that trail on the back of a horse.

For further reading:

Texas Almanac: Origins of the El Camino Real in Texas
Texas State Historical Association:  Old San Antonio Road
Texas Escapes: El Camino Real; AKA King’s Highway, Royal Road, Old San Antonio Road  El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail
National Park Service:  El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail

El Camino Real, northeast of San Marcos
El Camino Real, northeast of San Marcos

Poem – Heaven Came Down

Last weekend my Dude and I saw the new Brad Pitt movie, Fury:

“April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.”  Written by Sony Pictures Entertainment (

Before the move starts, the audience was given American tank statistics to put everything in perspective and they were horrific:  in the European Theatre, the American tankers experienced the most casualties of the war.   The Germans had better equipment and just basically decimated our ranks.

It was a very graphic film and in many places I had to turn my head.

But this was not a typical good-guy, bad-guy, shoot-em-up war film.  Sure that was the most of it but what I think made it rise above all other war movies I’ve seen is that right about the middle was a well-done love scene that brought beauty into the theater reeling from the graphic atrocities of human madness we call war.

It was between two young people, a soldier and a civilian but the scene’s actual focus was on the civilian’s older female relative and the soldier’s commanding officer.  This has stuck with me all week long and I couldn’t help but write a little something about it:

Heaven Came Down

He grabbed her arm.
“Don’t,” he said.
“They’re young and they’re alive.”

And for just a moment
The dark black brutal world cracked open and
Sunshine spilled into the room,
Pushing the darkness away.
Heaven came down and
Brought a tiny bit of beauty
That, for just a moment, bound up the
Wounded souls of two men and two women
With soft ribbons soaked in a salve of hope.

But all too soon,
the crack slammed back shut,
Shoving heaven far away
And thrusting both the men and the women
Back into the morass of brutalization
We call war.

©2014, KL

Go forth and bring beauty to the world my friends.

Book Review – Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion

Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion
Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion

Today I am reviewing the soon to be published book RANGER MARTIN and the ALIEN INVASION, by Canadian author Jack Flacco.

This book is a clean kick-butt story of Ranger Martin and three tagalong teenagers, Matty, her brother Jon, and their friend Randy, who fight zombies and aliens in a post-apocalyptic dystopian America.  Most citizens of the United States have been converted to zombies and they are now scavenging the land for the “undead” to feed their hunger.  At the same time, an alien invasion is going on, and these aliens are doing what they can to convert the “undead” to zombies.  A double whammy of bad stuff for Ranger Martin and the teens to deal with before they can reclaim the globe as their home.

This book was written in the young adult genre (ages 11-17) but personally I think the younger end of this group is a much better audience than the older.

Now, on to the pros and cons:


The storyline is realistic and sound and the plotting is good.   On nearly every page, all characters, major and minor, are in a jam and have to figure a way to get out.  The solutions they come up with are logical and realistic and not once did I think any of their decisions dumb or stupid nor did I roll my eyes and ask myself “Really?”

There is an extraordinary amount of over the top braggodocio, which I knew was intentional by the author.  Knowing that this is a young adult novel, all that bravado, instead of being melodramatic, put a smile on my face.

The characterization of both the major and minor characters is great.  Right away the author made me care so much about each character that when he killed off the not-so-important minor characters I became upset.

The very bestest, bestest, best part of the whole novel, though, is that there are strong female characters.  Granted all but one (Matty) gets killed off but none are cowering lacy dresses who talk nothing but boys and play the “woe-is-me-I’m-such-a-victim” card.  They all rise to the challenge and meet it head on.  If the author was aiming for greater-than-life female characters that girls could look up to in tough times, I believe he nailed it.

The novel is not just about fighting though.  There is a good balance of sequel scenes in which the characters actually think and talk amongst themselves.  Backstory is kept at a bare minimum but there are a small number of flashbacks to give the reader a glimpse of how things used to be.

This was a fun, fun, fun read.  When I was in middle and high school, many many moons ago, there was nothing like this to read so I was forced to read adult kick-butt books that were really not age appropriate.  I’m glad to see this void continues to be filled.

Now for the cons:

I’m not sure if it was intentional or not but there was point of view shifting everywhere, sometimes numerous times during each scene.  Some scenes I even had to stop and go back to figure out what exactly is going on and who was speaking.  If the author could invest in a good editor who could help him cut that out and hone the focus, I believe the novel would really shine.

Sometimes the over the top bravado did get to me and I had to put it down but then again, I’m no longer a young adult and this genre is not to my taste.

My recommendation?  If you have a middle-aged son and/or daughter and you’re looking for a good old fashioned clean, kick-butt story, this would be a good novel for them to read.  It goes on sale October 21, 2014.


A Broken Haiku for a Broken Heart

My brother-in-law passed away last week.  We knew it was coming but that didn’t make it any easier to bear.  I composed this poem while I was driving.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. Contains mature language may be unsuitable for some readers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The night road stretches
Long before us. We’ve taken
This route before in

Times of thanksgiving
And joyous expectation,

But not this time.

Tonight we’re on the
Way to say our last goodbye
to our dear brother.

the call came at mid-day

In the still of the
Night, we share the road with large
Beasts of burden whose

Yellow lights adorn
Their loads like a strand of pearls.
Their red lights stare back

And meet my red eyes
That stare forward, and only
For a moment

I am consoled.

“Hello. I’m calling to say that he is gone.”

Lining the road named
To honor and remember
Our veterans, tall

Dark sentinels stand
At attention and pay their
Own tribute while they

Hem me in and force
Me down a long dark path I
Do not want to

To pay my own tribute
And lay one of theirs,
One of ours,
To rest.

Fuck you cancer.

Lights flash against my
Closed eyes and the hum of tires
On asphalt lull me

To restless sleep.

Fuck you cancer. Fuck you and all your progeny. If I could I would banish you to the hinterlands and let all its nasties feast on you until you wither up and die.

All too soon we

Twenty-one guns.


Don Puckett
Don Puckett

Why the Antagonist is the Most Important Character in Your Novel

DevilAntagonists.  They’re the bad guys our protagonist is up against but who are they really? This is the question we must ask ourselves if we want our protagonist to leap off the page and be someone we remember long after we finish the story. Anything less will be B-O-R-I-N-G.

So what makes us remember the protagonist?  Her antagonist.  Her adversary.  The battle she must fight.  She must have a worthy adversary or she will not have to work very hard to rise above her situation and prevail.  Her journey will be ho hum and no more than meh.


This happens all the time in real life and the person who immediately comes to my mind is Rosa Parks.  This woman will never fade into obscurity because she stood up to something bigger than her and prevailed.  It is unfortunate the adversary she was up against (racism) is something so powerful that because of the way humanity is, we will spend until the end of time battling it into submission.  She had to know that, but she did not let even that deter her.

That, my friends, is the hallmark of a memorable character.

The antagonist drives the protagonist and the growth of our protagonist is directly correlated to the power of her antagonist.  That is why the antagonist is the most important character in your novel.

When I first started writing, I wrote my antagonist as a two dimensional character.  Fully bad with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the novel.  I had heard and read to not do that so I started to explore who this person was and why he was the way he was.  As I got further to know him, I found that I wanted to blur the line between bad and good with him.  I wanted to make him more human.  Not so he wouldn’t be so bad, but so my writing would be more complex and more rich.  I didn’t want to cheat him (and my readers) by just making him a stereotypical character.

Michael Shannon as General Zod.  Courtesy Wikipedia
Michael Shannon as General Zod. Courtesy Wikipedia

In the 2013 Superman movie, Man of Steel, I think the writers did an exceptional job with the antagonist General Zod.


If you have not watched this movie, scroll down to the red words to skip this section.

There’s a lot of different issues that can be explored with this movie but today I’m only going to talk about General Zod’s motivations.

General Zod, like every other Kryptonian except for Superman, was bred for a specific purpose.

Jor-el says to his son:

Every child was designed to perform a predetermined role in our society as a worker, a warrior, a leader, and so on. Your mother and I believed Krypton lost something precious, the element of choice, of chance. What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater? You were the embodiment of that belief Kal. Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries. That’s why we risked so much to save you.

Superman’s parents packed the genetic material of the Kryptonian population within their son in the form of a codex and sent him to Earth, just as Krypton blew up.

Zod, however, is supremely bad to the inhabitants of Earth.  His goal is to kill humans and set things in motion to terraform Earth into a place more habitable to those from Krypton then resurrect his people from the codex.  But after watching the movie two or three more times I started to feel sorry for him and it all boiled down to his motivations.

In his words:

I exist only to protect Krypton. That is the sole purpose for which I was born. And every action I take, no matter how violent or how cruel, is for the greater good of my people.

He was bred to be a patriot to the nth degree and now that Krypton was no more, he was fulfilling that destiny by trying to find a new place for his people to reside.

Superman rises to the challenge and meets it head on until he is finally forced to make the painful choice of either letting his people survive or letting the people of earth survive.

We all are creations of our upbringing and that’s exactly what Zod is.  Because of the way he was bred, he could not change.  And that made him a worthy adversary to Superman.


Sure Zod is bad.  He’s done horrific things.  But haven’t we all?  We are all an incredibly mixed up bag of good and bad but that is what contributes to the richness and complexity of humanity.

The antagonist can be anything.  It can be a person (General Zod) or an idea (racism) the protagonist is struggling against.  It can be the weather (the movie Twister).  One caveat:  if the protagonist is not a person, there must be a human face to symbolize it otherwise it’s nothing tangible for the protagonist struggle with.  Once we find out who and what our antagonist really is and what drives him, only then will our protagonist rise above the story and live with us long after it is over.