Marquette University will confer the Père Marquette Discovery Award, the university’s highest honor, on the Little Rock Nine in a special ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 4 p.m. in the Varsity Theatre, 1324 W. Wisconsin Ave.
As courageous teenagers, the Little Rock Nine dared to challenge racial segregation in public schools by enrolling at the all-white Central High School in 1957. They became an integral part of the fight for equal opportunity in American education.
“As we celebrate the Centennial of Women at Marquette and the 40th anniversary of our Educational Opportunity Program, we have appropriately paid significant attention to the question of who still lacks access to higher education in general and, specifically, to a Marquette education,” Marquette President Robert A. Wild, S.J., said. “This is an opportunity to recognize those who broke down the barriers to equal education and opened the doors of schools across the nation to students of color, both male and female.”
Krista Ratcliffe, one of the co-chairs of the centennial celebration and a professor of English, said honoring the Little Rock Nine emphasizes the importance of inclusion. “As a university community, we believe in justice,” she said. “The Little Rock Nine symbolize the historical significance of integration and educational opportunity. We are better, as an educational institution and as a society, because we welcome diversity.”
Seven of the nine members of the Little Rock Nine are expected to be present for the awards ceremony. They are: Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Minnijean Brown Trickey. Health concerns prevent Melba Pattillo Beals and Thelma Mothershed Wair from attending, said LaNier, president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation.
Following presentation of the Discovery Award Medal, Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at Marquette and an award-winning journalist, will interview the Little Rock Nine.
This is only the fifth time Marquette has presented the Discovery Award, which was created in 1969 as part of the Tercentenary Celebration of the exploration and discoveries of Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, in America. The award honors those who achieve an extraordinary breakthrough that adds to human knowledge or the advancement of humanity. Previous recipients include the crew of Apollo 11, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin and Michael Collins, in 1969; German theologian Rev. Karl Rahner, S.J., in 1979; Mother Teresa of India in 1981; and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 2003.