In the last of a series of events organized by UCA to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s integration of Central High School, composer Tania León presented her opera, “The Little Rock Nine,” a composition based on the Nine’s experiences at Central, and spoke alongside historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Sept. 25 at Reynolds Performance Hall.
During the beginning of the opera performance, which consisted of four excerpts from its first act, vocalists Kendra Thomas, Ronald Jensen-McDaniel, Candice Harris and Nisheedah Dévré Golden portrayed the excitement the Nine felt before their first day at Central High.
“How hard could this be?” Harris, who played Elizabeth Eckford, said during the performance. As the opera progressed, the vocalists explored the discrimination the Nine faced in the halls of Central.
“But I’d be accepted if they got to know me,” Golden, who played Minnijean Brown-Trickey, said during the performance.
Brown-Trickey attended the event and said she was pleased with the opera, which is one of the first operas to be based on the civil rights movement.
“It was spectacular,” Brown-Trickey said. “I’m so excited.” In light of the numerous 60th anniversary events that recognized the Nine, Brown-Trickey said her cause continues to be change. “It’s not about my story,” Brown-Trickey said. “It’s about producing change.”
Following the performance, León shared her reasons for composing the opera. “This was an important step not only in my career, but in my soul,” León said.
Gates then shared his views on the power of music. “Music has always provided the anthem of our lives, the soundtrack of our revolution,” Gates said.
Both speakers spoke of the history of oppression in the U.S., and León said that although the people of America have their differences, they’re all “in the same boat.”
“The poor and the lower working class are represented disproportionately among people of color, and that imparts a legacy of racism, which is a reflection of slavery,” Gates said. “The more we talk about that and the more that is part of the curriculum, the quicker we can cure it.”
The event concluded with a Q&A session. Among the audience members who asked questions was a retired soldier from the Arkansas National Guard, which was deployed by then Gov. Orval Faubus to deny the Nine entrance to Central in 1957.
The former guardsman asked León and Gates how people can sympathize with each other “in the spirit of reconciliation.”