Grandma India acts as Melba’s steely backbone during her struggle to integrate Central High School. Every time Melba considers abandoning the struggle, Grandma India encourages her to persist. Grandma India fortifies Melba with faith and stubbornness, and it is Grandma India who tells Melba that God’s warriors don’t cry. This is the first introduction that Melba has to the idea that in order to successfully integrate into the school, she will need to become more than a regular teenager. Because Grandma India is deeply religious, she is able to provide Melba with a sense of purpose. She reminds Melba that she is a child of God and that the opinion of her fellow teenagers doesn’t matter as long as God loves her. Grandma India always assures Melba that God approves of what she is doing.
Grandma India repeatedly shows Melba that she is not afraid to stand up to white people when they are doing something wrong. She also shows Melba that there are peaceful, respectful ways of standing up to the white people. Melba is thus able to avoid the provocations of Andy and his friend and avoid the temptation to fight back. When Grandma India dies during what would have been Melba’s second year at Central (had Faubus not shut down the schools), it is as though Melba has lost her will to fight. Melba moves to California to live in a more accepting community. Grandma India is the living embodiment of Melba’s strength; when she dies, Melba has to learn how to find that strength inside herself.