As the African-American teens approached Little Rock Central High School in fall 1957, a mob protested the “Little Rock Nine” as they sought to defy segregation and become agents of change.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division to escort them, and Ernest Green was frightened.
Green told more than 500 at Mississippi State in February that he knew then he was meant to be a leader, but becoming one wasn’t easy.
During his “Lessons from Little Rock” talk, Green shared his ideas about how people today, especially college and high school students, can become agents of change.
Green recalled a person in his community who asked Green why he wanted to leave his all-black high school if he knew pushing for true integration would only create more troubles for his fellow African-Americans.
“But, he should have asked a bigger question: ‘Why not?’” Green said. “Why not change things for the better? Why not challenge separate but equal? Why not prove that all men are truly created equal and deserve the same opportunities?’”
“You have the opportunity to be someone who’s accepting of other people; the agent of change really starts with each individual,” Green said. “You have to be willing to step up personally and take responsibility for implementing the change.”
After Green became the first African-American to graduate from Central High, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan State University. Green received honorary doctorates from Michigan State, Tougaloo College and Central State University in Ohio.
Green is the managing director of public finance for Lehman Brothers in Washington, D.C. He also served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training during former President Jimmy Carter’s administration.