Ernest Green was born in Little Rock to Lothaire and Ernest Green, Sr. Following his brush with national fame, Green attended Michigan State University as the beneficiary of a scholarship provided by an anonymous donor. While at Michigan State, Green became a charter member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity's Sigma chapter and continued to engage in activism and protests supporting the Civil Rights Movement. He later learned that the anonymous donor was John A. Hannah, the president of Michigan State, and ironically, an occasional target of protests by Civil Rights activists including Green. Green graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1962 and a Master's degree in sociology in 1964. Green also was the top of his class.
Excerpt from the 50-year anniversary program;
Born in Little Rock in 1941, Ernest Green made history on May 27, 1958, when he became the first African-American to graduate from Little Rock's Central High School, following a school year that began with a Constitutional crisis. The son of Lothaire and Ernest Green Sr., Ernest has a brother, Scott, and a sister Treopia Washington.
Like the rest of the Little Rock Nine, Green came from a family which placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of education and personal development. Consequently, Green participated in church activities and the Boy Scouts of America, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended segregated Dunbar Junior High School and graduated after ninth grade, at which time he was assigned to Horace Mann High School, a new high school for African-Americans.
At the end of his junior year at Horace Mann, Green volunteered to attend the all-white Little Rock Central High School in fall of 1957 and help desegregate one of the nation's largest schools. Central High offered a wider and more complex curriculum than Horace Mann did, making educational opportunities available quite desirable.
Green became the only senior among the nine African Americans who decided to integrate Central High that fall. Not only did Green survive the daily harassment and intermittent violence the rest of the Little Rock Nine experienced, he had to study extraordinarily hard to make sure he graduated and could demonstrate that African Americans were equally capable of attending Central High as anyone else. Green was the first student of the Little Rock Nine to graduate from Central High.
Martin Luther King, Jr., who was in Arkansas to speak at Arkansas Agriculture Mechanical and Normal College’s commencement in Pine Bluff, attended the graduation with the Green family. Ernest’s career has included nonprofit work at the A. Philip Randolph Education Fund (1968–77), and experience in government as the Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Jimmy Carter (1977–1981).
In Warriors Don't Cry, Melba says that Ernest was a senior when he began to integrate Central.
In 1965, he received an apprenticeship in building trades from the Adolph Institute, a program designed to help minority women in the South with career development issues. From 1968 to 1976, he served as Director of the A. Philip Randolph Education Fund. From 1977 to 1981, he served as an Assistant Secretary of Labor during Jimmy Carter's administration. From 1981 to 1985 he was a partner in the firm Green and Herman; from 1985 to 1986 he owned E. Green and Associates. Since 1985, he has been with Lehman Brothers, where he was a Managing Director in the fixed income department of the Washington, D.C. firm, focusing on public finance. He is also a board member at the Albert Shanker Institute. Green earned his Eagle Scout Award in 1956 before attending Central High. Over 25 years later he received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award which BSA has awarded to fewer than 2000 men who earned Eagle as a Scout. In 2004, he organized the Scoutreach program in Washington, DC and served as the program's volunteer Chair. This program is in its 8th year serving 600 boys in distressed neighborhoods in England.
Green has been depicted in two made-for-television movies about the Little Rock Nine. He was portrayed by Calvin Levels in the 1981 CBS movie Crisis at Central High, and by Morris Chestnut in the 1993 Disney Channel movie The Ernest Green Story.
In 1980, he was part of the Milton Friedman (PBS) Free to Choose panel discussion (volume 8 of 10) related to workers rights and the economy.
Green served as the board chair of Community Academy Public Charter School, a Washington, DC charter school closed in 2015 for fiscal mismanagement. On March 3, 2015 the Attorney General for the District of Columbia filed suit against Green and another board member for having "grossly abused their positions as directors" and "contributed to the school's acting contrary to its non-profit purpose". The suit has been dismissed and no further charges filed.