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For years I kept on my desk the photograph of a young black girl dressed in 1950’s attire, head up, back straight, shades on her face, walking resolutely through a crowd of angry faces. Why is she is the only one wearing shades in the picture? The date below the photograph explains everything: September 4, 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas.

The young black girl in the photograph is Elizabeth Eckford, and the photograph was taken of her on her way to Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. She would be remembered as one of the first black students to integrate Central High. The photograph of her and the angry, jeering white faces in the background would become a symbol of race hatred in America. But it’s not Elizabeth Eckford’s solemn stride along the streets of Little Rock that has captured my imagination all these years. Instead, it’s the twisted expressions of hate and contempt on the faces of the whites looking on. How many times have I looked at the now infamous photo and wondered what was going through the minds of the men and women on that beautiful September morning more than 40 years ago.

Every time I look at the picture on my desk I become sad. What words the tormentors may have hurled at the back of the pretty young Elizabeth Eckford I can only imagine. “Where are the angry white people now?” “Are the people in the photo still filled with the same hate as they did back in 1957?”

Imagine my surprise in September, 1997 when I received in the mail from people who knew of my interest in this story a news clippings that had recently appeared in an Arkansas newspaper. It was the story of a woman named Hazel Bryan Massery, mother and grandmother, in search of a way to ask forgiveness. This now mother and grandmother was ashamed of a picture taken of her years earlier as an angry white 15-year-old teenage girl with a twisted expression of hate on her face. Hazel Bryan was haunted by and hostage to a picture taken of her 40 years earlier with her teeth bared and face twisted with hate. After years of soul searching and months of anguishing over where to begin, Hazel Bryan Massery found and met Elizabeth Eckford.

She wanted to apologize–for her own sake.

Your and my snapshots of an old self may not be a part of the public archives, but we all have a snapshot of ourselves somewhere that we’re not particularly proud of: A memory from grade school of someone we shunned or taunted simply because they were different. A memory of a chair we gave up or a neighborhood we abandoned because someone different came along that we didn’t want to be near. A memory of a joke we told or laughed at at someone else’s expense.

What does it feel like to see past snapshots of your old self, an old rage, an old prejudice, an old ignorance? How does it feel to see a snapshot of an unhappy self, a wrong and sinful self from a not-so-distant past. If you can, post that photo and tell the story.

–Renita Weems

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