A work honoring the legacy of The Little Rock Nine
Commissioned by and dedicated to the Hendrix College Choir and their director, Dr. Andrew Morgan.
I have no business setting the words of African-American women rooted in the struggle for civil rights. I am not black, and I have known substantial privilege as a white male. But I have also seen the struggle for marriage equality as a gay man, and I know that it is important for people in a place of privilege to speak up for people who are disenfranchised and who lack power, influence, and the ability to change the system. This work is my attempt to do so.
I set the words of these four remarkable women because I feel the need to examine my own privilege and to do everything I can to bring their amazing story to life through song. I had read about desegregation in the South in my history classes, but it was not until I encountered the words of The Little Rock Nine that I truly began to attempt to understand this history through the eyes of those who had lived it. When Andrew Morgan at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas commissioned me to write a new work in the Spring of 2016, I wanted to add my voice for positive change to the voices of people affected by violence and oppression. I wanted to ally myself with this cause and no longer stand by as an onlooker on the sidelines of history.
Down Deep is music that is meant to affirm the lives of these women so that we may never forget their story. In addition to including the powerful words of Minnijean Brown-Trickey, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Elizabeth Eckford, and Thelma Mothershed-Wair, I have also included a quotation from Henry Woods, the United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Judge Woods is most famous for his role in the Pulaski County Schools desegregation fight from the 1980’s. In 1985, he told The New York Times:
“Down deep, many whites don’t want their kids sitting next to blacks. That’s what it comes to."
(from Reed, Roy. “Little Rock A Symbol Again: The Resegregation of Schools.” The New York Times, March 23, 1985.)
And that is the root of it. We must sit down together, and talk together, and share our struggles together. Even if our experiences are different, we are all part of a country that has long marched toward ever-fuller equality. And we all have a role to play in securing that place in history for those who are excluded from the table. As President Barack Obama said back when he was campaigning for office: “we may have different stories, but we have common hopes.”
I graciously offer this work of music in honor of those courageous Little Rock Nine, who stood on the forefront of a movement. May they continue to inspire all of us as we look into our future for the strength to endure the struggles to come.
-- Dominick DiOrio
Original libretto by Dominick DiOrio, adapted from the words
of the people honored in the subtitles to each movement
I. Judge Henry Woods, in 1985
Many whites don’t want their kids sitting next to blacks.
That’s what it comes to.
II. Minnijean Brown-Trickey (b. 1941)
I was one of the kids approved by the school officials.
One girl ran up to me and said,
“I’m so glad you’re here.
Won’t you go to lunch with me today?”
I never saw her again.
III. Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942)
I had to have that sheet of paper.
It was an achievement.
I helped change the educational system.
IV. Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941)
They moved closer and closer…
Somebody started yelling…
I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd--
someone who maybe could help.
I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face,
but when I looked at her again,
she spat on me.
V. Thelma Mothershed-Wair (b. 1940)
I was determined to treat my kids equally.
I taught white kids, helped them, graded them fairly.
VI. Reprise, Judge Henry Woods (1918-2002)
Whites … sitting next to blacks.
That’s what it comes to.