Gwendolyn Brooks, L. Alex Wilson and Central High

May 1, 2017

In September 1957, the events surrounding the desegregation of Central High School became a focal point for national and international outrage at Little Rock’s treatment of black schoolchildren. Reflecting on the episode, African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote the poem “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” included in her 1960 collection The Bean Eaters. The poem vividly recounts the violence and hatred displayed by the white mob gathered at Central High, particularly the vicious beating of African-American newspaper reporter L. Alex Wilson. Wilson worked for the Memphis-based black newspaper the Tri-State Defender, an affiliate of the Chicago Defender. He died prematurely in 1962 of what seems likely to have been Parkinson’s Disease, very possibly brought on by the mob violence he encountered in Little Rock that day.