Looking for the ideal bridge between American history and literary study? You’ll want to add Warriors Don’t Cry to your syllabus. Warriors Don't Cry is a gripping memoir by Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the nine African American students selected to join the newly desegregated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the 1957 school year. A background lesson on the civil rights movement, particularly Brown v. Board of Education, will provide students valuable context for Beals’s story. You can pair this nonfiction work with other texts about the civil rights movement, including John Lewis’s graphic novel trilogy, March, and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Because Beals’s experiences are tied so closely to the civil rights era, Warriors Don’t Cry is a great text to use in a cross-curricular unit with teachers in your Social Studies/History department.

Warriors Don't Cry features themes involving resilience, justice, and prejudice. Some students may be learning about the realities of racism for the first time. As an access point, consider a lesson involving personal reflection for your students. Have them write a journal entry about a time in which they persevered through a setback, fought an unjust situation, or felt judged or alienated based on race, gender, or other forms of identity. Experience is relative, and considering these themes in their own lives will foster student empathy toward Melba. Keep in mind that many of these stories will be personal, so assure students that their journal entries will be kept confidential. You can also give students the option of bringing in a news item relating to prejudice is they do not feel comfortable sharing a personal experience.

Beyond featuring a crucial perspective on civil rights, Beals’s memoir is a great text for analyzing symbols, tracing motifs, and discussing authorial purpose. Symbols of note include journalists, Melba’s Easter dress, and even Central High itself, which represents both the enforcement and dismantling of discriminatory barriers. Discuss the significance of journalism. How might the journalists’ intent mirror that of Beals’s for writing this memoir?

Prepare your students for this powerful text by reading more below!

Summary of Warriors Don't Cry

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1994
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1000
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7-9

In 1957, when Melba Pattillo was 13 years old, she was selected to participate in the integration of Little Rock Central High School, an all-white school. Along with eight others, Melba was one of the first African American students to act upon the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to integrate educational institutions in the United States. In Warriors Don't Cry, Melba reflects upon her experience in eye-opening detail.

Content Warning: Warriors Don't Cry contains violent scenes, a description of an attempted sexual assault, and harsh language, including racial slurs.

What Your Students Will Love About Warriors Don't Cry

  • The strength and inspiration of the Little Rock Nine
  • Melba's family's wit and wisdom

Potential Student Struggles With Warriors Don't Cry

  • The cruelty that Melba and the other eight students endure daily
  • The frequent use of racial slurs and profanity throughout the book

Learning Objectives for Warriors Don't Cry

  • Recall and apply historical context regarding the civil rights movement.
  • Discuss themes involving race, injustice, prejudice, and resilience as they develop throughout Melba’s attendance at Central High.
  • Explain the role Melba’s family, particularly Grandma India, plays in her life.
  • Examine the motif of journalism as emblematic of truth, as well as a foreshadowing of Melba’s future career.
  • Reflect on the author’s likely motivation for writing the memoir.

Literary Elements in Warriors Don't Cry

  • Foreshadowing
  • Idiom
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Motif
  • Narrative
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • And more!

Major Themes in Warriors Don't Cry

RaceWarriors Don't Cry offers a firsthand perspective of the horrors of racial discrimination at the height of the civil rights movement.

Related Works:

Resilience — Despite enduring constant hate crimes at school, Melba and the rest of the Little Rock Nine refuse to let fear prevent progress.

Related Works:

Social Change — The incredible events at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, sparked significant social change in the United States, paving the way for other African American students to attend previously all-white schools.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Warriors Don't Cry

Order Warriors Don't Cry Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Warriors Don't Cry Paperback Student Edition

This free guide was originally posted in September 2015. It has been updated as of February 2020.