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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Fifty years ago today, a crowd gathered at the doors of a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

Unidentified Man: At 9:25, six negro girls, three negro boys, entered Central High School. I'm not sure most of us had yet absorbed the historic scope of this moment.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today, the Little Rock Nine were back at their alma mater, again, surrounded by crowds and reporters, though the mood was very different.

Mr. CYRUS BAHRASSA (Student Body President, Central High School): You nine are symbols of social justice, heroes of the greatest caliber. And on behalf of every student, teacher and person connected to this outstanding school, thank you and welcome back to Little Rock Central High School. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: That was the current Central High student body president, Cyrus Bahrassa.

BLOCK: The front steps of Central High were also filled with dignitaries - the governor of Arkansas, former Governor and President Bill Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, as well as local leaders. Governor Mike Beebe praised the courage and commitment of the nine, saying they demonstrated heroism seldom seen.

Governor MIKE BEEBE (Democrat, Arkansas): They may have been more concerned with learning history than making it, but history was thrust upon them. They were coming here to learn but what they actually did was teach. Teach a lesson for the ages. They met chaos with dignity far beyond their teenage years. They brushed away threats with determined conviction. In the face of so much that was wrong, they showed an entire country the essence of what was right.

SIEGEL: After the governor spoke, each of the nine addressed the crowd. They spoke of their experiences then, what's changed now and what hasn't.

Ernest Green was the first to graduate.

Mr. ERNEST GREEN (Little Rock Nine): We were nine teenagers. We thought this was the place that would accept us, that we belong. We saw it as a building that offered opportunity and options for us. And you know what, 50 years later, I think we were right.

BLOCK: Another of the Little Rock Nine, Gloria Ray Karlmark, spoke of hope.

Ms. GLORIA RAY KARLMARK (Little Rock Nine): Fifty years later on, standing here at Central High School with the memory of what happened in this school, to me and to my fellow Little Rock Nine, forever permeating my bones. I can only hope that today's wonderful student body of all cultural origins will not forget from whence they came.

SIEGEL: That's Gloria Ray Karlmark, one of the Little Rock Nine, the students who integrate at Central High School 50 years ago today.

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