It was a school night, and Elizabeth Eckford was too excited to sleep. The next morning, September 4, 1957, was her first day of classes, and one last time she ironed the pleated white skirt she'd made for the occasion. It was made of piqué cotton; when she'd run out of material, she'd trimmed it with navy-blue-and-white gingham. Then she put aside her new bobby socks and white buck loafers. Around 7:30 a.m. the following day, she boarded a bus bound for Little Rock Central High School.
Other black schoolchildren were due at Central that historic day, but Elizabeth would be the first to arrive. The world would soon know all about the Little Rock Nine. But when Elizabeth Eckford tried to enter Central, and thereby become the first black student to integrate a major southern high school, she was really the Little Rock One. The painfully shy 15-year-old daughter of a hyper-protective mother reluctant to challenge age-old racial mores, she was the unlikeliest trailblazer of all. But as dramatic as the moment was, it really mattered only because Elizabeth wandered into the path of Will Counts's camera.