Wayne Williams, other secretaries of state, honor Little Rock Nine

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and four members of the Little Rock Nine who were honored during the National Association of Secretaries of State conference Sunday in Washington, D.C. Left to right, Williams, Melba Pattillo Beals, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Elizabeth Eckford and Ernest Green. (SOS photo)

The story of integrating America’s schools is a personal one for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who often talks about growing up in Virginia and what inspired him to become involved in politics.

As part of that journey, Williams last year visited the Little Rock, Ark., high school where nine black students were denied entrance to all-white Central High School, forcing a very public conflict between President Eisenhower and the Arkansas governor in 1957.

On Sunday Williams got to shake the hands of four members of what became known as the Little Rock Nine when the group received the highest award possible from the National Association of Secretaries of State. The emotional ceremony reduced the Arkansas secretary of state to tears and had Williams leaping to his feet to give standing ovations to the four.

The Little Rock Nine has received plenty of honors — in 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded each one the Congressional Gold Medal.  But what makes the NASS award unique, said Ernest Green, who was present Sunday, is that is comes from elected officials who oversee most of the nation’s elections.

“You are the critical players,” he said, when he accepted the award. “It’s not who we elect to office but how we get that election done.”

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