My friend Jon S. Randal has written a beautiful piece to inspire us all, about a sapling from Anne Frank’s chestnut tree (pictured below) to be planted this coming September at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in honor of the 56th anniversary of the “Little Rock Nine,” courageously standing up for their right to attend Central High.
First I want to say that Anne Frank wrote her last words about her tree in early1944, when I was 2 years old, living in NYC. When I was 8, my family and I moved to The Hague, Holland and lived in the attic of the home my Dutch grandparents had had to flee during the Nazi occupation of Holland. We are not Jewish, nor did any of us face the unspeakable horrors of the death camps. But I played in bomb holes and witnessed the destruction of Rotterdam where my dad worked. I feel a very personal connection to Anne’s courage and strength and to her spirit of undying hope. And these experiences have informed a lifelong peace activism.
Here are Jon’s words:
On May 13, 1944, Anne Frank looked out the only window in the attic not blacked out and stared at a patch of blue sky, the birds, and the majestic chestnut tree that grew in her garden. In her last entry in her diary about this beautiful tree, she wrote how much happiness and hope it gives her, longing for the freedom it represents.
Later this Fall, a sapling, a descendent from that long gone tree will be planted between other trees, which witnessed the courage and perseverance of the Little Rock Nine, black students who dared to stand up to injustice by enrolling at all-white Central High School in 1957.
The Little Rock Nine (pictured, starting from the back left, Ernest Green and Jefferson Thomas; Thelma Mothershed Wair, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Elizabeth Eckford; and front left, Terrence Roberts, soldier, Melba Pattillo Beals, Gloria Ray Karlmark and Carlotta Walls LaNier) faced hostile crowds and the state’s National Guard, becoming a major symbol of the Civil Rights Movement and the the fight for change and equal rights in America.
The sapling from Anne Frank’s tree is one of 11 saplings gifted from the Anne Frank Center to sites chosen largely because they showed “the consequences of intolerance — and that includes racism, discrimination and hatred.”
John Allen Riggins, the Little Rock senior who initiated his school’s application, said he was spurred to try to bring the sapling over because “we don’t often see the immediate impact that young people have on social issues.”
“It’s really moving that they shared that common bond,” he said of Anne and the Little Rock Nine. “Even thousands of miles across the world, it was the same idea – Courage in the face of evil. Hope for a brighter future.”
In one of the passages to her diary, Anne Frank wrote of her beloved tree during winter, ““From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the sea gulls and other birds as they glide on the wind . . .”
She watched it change through the seasons, and, in her final entry regarding her tree, on May 13, 1944, “Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.”
May the tree in Little Rock also grow like Anne Frank’s tree with each leaf and branch symbolizing freedom, equality, and peace, until it too goes into “full bloom,” more beautiful than it was in previous years.
Jon S. Randal