Little Rock Central High School
Little Rock, AR - Events of Sunday, May 12, 2013
When we programmed the location of the Bernice Garden Farmers' Market that we wrote about in our last post into our GPS, we realized it was right down the street from the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. Central High School in Little Rock became the focus of the nation's struggles with desegregation back in 1957. We were thinking of visiting Central High School anyway, so it made a lot of sense to stop on our way back from the farmers' market.
The visitor center is located diagonally across the street from Central High School. Visitors may check out the grounds in front of the school, but they are asked not to enter the school on their own. Although the school is an important landmark, it is not part of the National Historic Site. It is still an operating high school that is attended by over 2,000 students. Through agreement with the Park Service, the school will schedule group tours by advance reservation.
Through old photos, videos and voice recordings, the visitor center tells the story of how 9 African-American students bravely spearheaded the effort for racial integration in Little Rock in 1957. It also gives a lot of background into the nation's problem with racial discrimination and segregation leading up to the time of the crisis in Little Rock in 1957.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 1896 that segregation was constitutional (Plessy v. Ferguson) under the doctrine of separate but equal, the Court handed down a new ruling in 1954 (Brown v. Topeka Kansas Board of Education) stating "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The Court was unanimous in its ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional.
In the fall of 1957, the Little Rock Board Education under an order from the Federal District Court had put a plan in place to enroll a small group of African-American students in its all-white Central High School. Although the NAACP criticized the plan as being too slow and segregationists felt the plan shouldn't be carried out at all, everything might have gone reasonably well except for the fact that Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus went on television on the evening of September 2 and announced that he would send the Arkansas National Guard to the school the following day to "prevent violence." By that he meant he would use the National Guard to block the black students from entering the school.
The National Guard prevented the students, dubbed the Little Rock Nine, from entering the school for over two weeks until a judge ordered the National Guard removed on September 20. The students were finally able to enter the school; but the police could not keep the crowd under control, and the students had to be smuggled out a side door and rushed away in a police car.
President Dwight Eisenhower sent Federal troops to Little Rock on September 24-25, and he also federalized the Arkansas National Guard. On September 25, soldiers escorted the Little Rock Nine into the school for their first full day of classes. The students, who were selected because of their high academic performance and attendance, were tutored at home during the first part of the school year in order to not fall behind their white classmates.
Across from the visitor center, an old Mobil gas station has been restored to the way it looked back in the day when protesters gathered there.
Across from the gas station is Central High School. Part of it can be seen in the photo of the gas station above. We were surprised at how big the school is. The entire school complex, which includes baseball and football fields, takes up an area of about 8 city blocks. The building itself occupies about a third of that area.
Federal troops maintained a presence in Little Rock for the rest of the school year, but the students were still subjected to much physical, emotional and verbal abuse. Nevertheless, the Little Rock Nine successfully completed their year at Central High School.
Governor Faubus closed all city schools the following year rather than bow to federal pressure to integrate. Students who could afford it attended private schools. The public schools were opened again for the 1959 school year by court order.
The Central High School National Historic Site does a good job bringing the early school desegregation struggles to life. We both found the whole visit sobering. Listening to the oral histories of the Little Rock Nine presents humanity at its best and its worst. Once again we see from our travels that no matter where you go there are superficial differences, but basically all of us want the same thing for our children...equal opportunity to provide the best we can for our children to enable them to be successful in life.
After leaving Central High School, we headed back to the motor home for a Mother's Day Skype call from Lora and J. Michael. Around 5:00, we went back out for dinner at Larry's Pizza. We were introduced to Larry's by our full-timing friends, Marilyn and Alan, who were originally from Little Rock. Larry's has several locations in and around Little Rock, and one of them is only a few miles from the campground.
Larry's Pizza has a delicious buffet for around $9. The reason we went to dinner a little later than we normally go is because we have found that pizzas for the buffet come out of the kitchen more frequently and you get a better selection when they are a little more crowded.
Larry's has a very creative menu. In additional to the usual pizzas like pepperoni, plain cheese and sausage, they also have things like baked potato (topped with slices of baked potato, cheddar cheese bacon and chives), honey-mustard chicken, barbecued chicken, cheese burger (with ground beef and cheese), Buffalo chicken, taco, BLT, Canadian bacon, and more. They also have a number of dessert pizzas like Bavarian cream (Margery's favorite), cinnamon sticks, banana pudding, chocolate chip (Paul's favorite), apple, and chocolate-peanut butter. We didn't eat all of the varieties mentioned, but we ate enough of our favorites to last until we visit again the next time we're in Little Rock.
Back at the motor home, we settled in for an evening of TV. We had another outing planned for Monday, so look for our next post.