Heroes and Villains

Elizabeth Eckford, the Little Rock Nine, and Respect

An investigation of the virtue of respect and why it is important in a society that values individual liberty through the experience of Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine.  Respect is defined as protecting your mind and body as previous aspects of your identity and to extend that protection to every other person you encounter.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Suggested Launch Activity

CENTRAL QUESTION: Why is respect important in a society that values individual liberty?

Before class, post the following: Respect: To protect your mind and body as precious aspects of your identity. To extend that protection to every other person you encounter.

Before launching a brief, introductory discussion, set a key ground rule: Only those present may be topics of discussion, and only with their permission. Ask students how this simple ground rule is a way of showing respect to others.

Then, ask: “Have you ever embarrassed or even humiliated yourself, or been embarrassed or humiliated by someone else, in a fairly public way?” (Students’ responses may include “in-person” or social media experiences.)

Follow up with:

  • What made it awkward? Difficult?
  • What was your reaction at the time? How did you handle it afterward?
  • If an apology was needed, was it offered? Why or why not? What makes apologies difficult in those circumstances? How does offering an apology show respect? Do any other civic virtues play a part?
  • If you were in this situation, or in another one, the person who has ever “learned a lesson the hard way” by being the one who embarrassed or hurt another person, what exactly is the lesson you learned?
  • Refer to the word “responsibility”—along with its definition—that you posted earlier.
  • Ask: How is everything we’ve just been discussing related to this definition of respect?
  • How is respect related to civil discourse?
  • How does the freedom we have in our society sometimes lead to these kinds of situations?

Assign students to groups of 3 or 4 to discuss the central question: Why is respect important in a society that values individual liberty?

Bring the class together for a large-group discussion of the question before transitioning to the Primary Source Activity.

About Launch Activities

The optional introductory activity above is designed to support you in the classroom. However, the primary narratives and photos in the section that follows can be used with or without this introduction.

Lesson Background

The Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), with its declaration that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, overturned decades of precedent and challenged deeply held social traditions. Resistance to the decision was widespread, especially in the south….

Essay PDF

Sources and Further Reading

Margolick, David. Elizabeth And Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011.

‘Elizabeth and Hazel’: The Legacy of Little Rock.

Virtue Across the Curriculum

Below are corresponding literature and film suggestions to help you teach this virtue across the curriculum. Sample prompts have been provided for the key corresponding works. For the other suggested works, or others that are already part of your curriculum, create your own similar prompts to expand on the theme of respect.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Taking a stand for justice is more difficult—and more important—when you must stand alone. How does Atticus Finch stand up for justice against the entire community? Note: The 1962 film adaptation, directed by Robert Mulligan, is not rated.

Girl Rising directed by Richard E. Robbins
In what scenarios do you see a lack of respect? In whose actions do you see respect? When each girl is treated with respect, how does it influence her self-worth? How does this influence her ability to contribute to her society? Research the type of government and other societal structures in the nations where the girls live. Compare it to societies that guarantee a high level of freedom. What relationship do you find between the level of individual freedom in a society and the level of respect with which the girls are treated? Note: This film is rated PG-13. While not graphic, some of the topics are difficult for younger students. Review content to determine which sections to share with your students.

Amistad directed by Steven Spielberg (1997)
Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Mississippi Morning by Ruth Vander Zee

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