Phone Calls and Prayer in Warriors Don’t Cry

The prompt I’d like to discuss further is “prayers as letters to God,” but further thinking after Tuesday’s class period led me to modify this a bit to become “prayers as phone calls to God.” Let me know what you think after reading!

Young Melba Pattilo Beals. Here is an interview I found with Beals about her life and writing! I think the last few minutes are particularly relevant to our class:

From the first 12 chapters of Warriors Don’t Cry, I was most interested in how Melba communicated with God throughout the integration process. Throughout the book, we see communication happen among the Little Rock community in a variety of different forms, but phone calls are used the most often for important conversations and news. Grandma India uses the phone to communicate with the NAACP, local ministers… Besides this, Beals’ family also receives many calls from “hecklers” and Little Rock citizens against the integration of Central High School. Beals frequently writes about the phone ringing “off the hook” due to the volume of calls their family receives, drawing emphasis to each moment in which her family receives phone calls. Because of this evidence, phone calls in Warriors Don’t Cry were used as an effective way for people to make their voice heard on issues that they were passionate or angry about, as well as to convey important messages to others while organizing for change and progress. I argue that Melba, learning from the example of her Grandma and other influential adults, used her prayers to God in the same fashion of these phone calls.

As Melba begins the process of integrating Central High School and facing institutional barriers to her attendance, she writes her prayers to God in her diary. One entry that struck me as notable is the following, written right before the federal court hearing: “Dear God, We can’t get along without you. Governor Faubus has lots of attorneys and the paper says they have more than two hundred witnesses. I’m counting on you once and for all to make it clear whether you want me in that school.” Here, Melba communicates with God in a similar way that her family does with the community organizers–by conveying important details about the trial to come and asking for support in her efforts to make change. Melba also expresses her discontent with her new situation in this diary entry: “There seems to be no space for me at Central High…Please, God, make space for me.” She uses her prayer as a way to speak her mind to God, a being who could change things for the better in Melba’s life. One final example that highlights this point is the diary entry reading, “Okay, God…it’s my turn to carry the banner. Please help me do thy will.” These written prayers function similarly to phone calls in Warriors Don’t Cry, showing how Melba’s inner world and conflict mirror what’s going on in the outside world of school integration and civil rights in America.

Do you agree with my reframing to phone calls, or would you argue that letters still make more sense? Or, does this difference even matter? 🙂

1 thought on “Phone Calls and Prayer in Warriors Don’t Cry

  1. While I hadn’t previously thought of them this way, I think that your reframing of phone calls makes sense here, especially because Melba seems to always request things from God. Her diary entries often lacked the casual conversational aspects of a traditional letters, and struck me as a call to action for God, which is understandable given her circumstances. The nature of her prayers to God make me picture her as asking for service from a help desk at a business office, which to me, further validates your reframing to phone calls.

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