Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Where is it?

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is located at 2120 W Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock, Arkansas. The park features:

  • Museum and visitor center
  • Restored Mobil gas station
  • The school and grounds
  • Ranger led walks
  • Tours may be available on select days or by special arrangement with the park – all tours and ranger led walks require advance reservations

Website link: Little Rock Central High School

Little Rock Central High School still operates as a public high school today with a student population of about 2,500.

Why is Little Rock Central High School important?

Little Rock Central High School is one of the most significant sites of the civil rights movement in the U.S. In 1957, the school became a battleground, so to speak, in the fight between the State of Arkansas and the U.S. government over federally mandated desegregation of public schools. Additionally, whites wanted continued segregation, and blacks wanted educational equality and to attend their own neighborhood schools. The Alabama governor went against the Supreme Court’s decision to allow black students to attend previously all-white schools. A group of African American teenagers was, unfortunately, caught in the middle of the battle.

What happened?

Arkansas Governor, Orville Faubus, held a televised news conference on September 2, 1957, to inform Little Rock citizens that caravans of white supremacists were on their way to stop the integration of black students into Central High School. Faubus stated that he ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround the school due to the potential for “blood in the streets”. He was never able to provide evidence to prove those statements. Meanwhile, the Little Rock school board advised that no African American students try to enter Central High or any white school until the dilemma was “legally resolved”.

All eyes are on Arkansas

On September 4, 1957, nine African American students attempted to enter the school surrounded by a group of ministers as escorts. National Guardsmen blocked the ministers and students stating that under orders from Governor Faubus the students could not enter. Meanwhile, mobs of whites hurled derogatory comments, waved Confederate flags, and even spat on the black students. Governor Faubus claimed later in the month that the National Guard was called out only to prevent violence and not to prevent integration.

Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford attempts to enter Little Rock Central High School alone. She was then chased off of the campus by hostile whites.

Excerpt from the national park website of a black newspaperman’s observation:

“The mob of twisted whites, galvanized into vengeful action by the inaction of the heroic state militia, was not willing that the young school girl should get off so easily. Elizabeth Eckford had walked into the wolf’s lair, and now that they felt she was fair game, the drooling wolves took off after their prey. The hate mongers, who look exactly like other, normal white men and women, took off down the street after the girl.” – Buddy Lonesome, St. Louis Argus

Sad scene at Little Rock Central High School

While the world watched

Federal District Judge Ronald Davis denied a petition by the Little Rock School Board to delay integration into Central High School. The judge ordered integration to begin on Monday, September 9. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Also on September 9, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was the first civil rights legislation since 1875. On September 24, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard which took them out of Governor Faubus’ control. Stating that “mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts”, Eisenhower then sent federal troops to Little Rock to surround the school. The next day, September 25, nine African American students entered the school escorted by members of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division. About 750 of the 2,000 students at Central High School were absent that day.

False advertising perhaps? Governor Faubus closed all Little Rock high schools in order to avoid integration.

The aftermath

Racial tensions continued throughout the remainder of the school year with the issue of desegregation still an extremely hot topic. In September of 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Little Rock would continue with its desegregation plan. Therefore, the school board determined that the high schools would open on September 15. Overriding the school board’s decision, Governor Faubus ordered all Little Rock high schools closed pending a public vote on integration. Voters chose not to integrate, and the schools remained closed for the entire 1958-1959 school year.

The National Historic Site today

This Mobil gas station sits across the street from the school

Why would a gas station be part of a national park site? This station had a pay phone, and it was the closest pay phone to the events taking place at Little Rock Central High School. Members of the media gathered here to take turns calling in stories to their news desks.

This sculpture, “United”, by artist Clay Enoch is located in a garden near the east entrance of Little Rock Central High School. It was dedicated in 2017 on the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the school by the Little Rock Nine.

The museum takes visitors through a timeline of events leading up to the integration of Central High School.

Today benches commemorating each of the Little Rock Nine can be found near the reflecting pool in front of the school. Statues of them also grace the grounds of the state capitol building. Every one of the nine students graduated from college. Some even went on to earn post graduate degrees, and some have written books about their experiences. Click here to view their impressive biographies. As for us, we are inspired by the way these determined people handled such abhorrent adversity. And now we are honored to know their story.

Thank you for joining us on our visit to Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site!

Need some road trip inspiration? Check out these great destinations:

Things to do in San Antonio: River Walk

Things to do in Sedona, Arizona

Eisenhower National Historic Site

Strawbery Banke Museum and Portsmouth, New Hampshire

 

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

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38 thoughts on “Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

  1. Thank you for this post. This is definitely a site for our bucket list, and it is not that far from home. I am glad to know there are ranger tours; I always learn the most that way. The Little Rock Nine do have impressive biographies. They truly valued education. I love the architectural symmetry of the school. The gas station being included as part of the national historic site is a statement on the advancement of the technology of phones.

  2. Great post! Two of the things are worth mentioning about this episode in U.S. history are (1) “Voters chose not to integrate, and the schools remained closed for the entire 1958-1959 school year”; and (2) “mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts”.

    Those facts and statements are still relevant today. A majority of those who voted were firmly committed to denying opportunity and constitutional rights to their fellow Americans based on race. There are many instances throughout American history where mobs have been mobilized to enforce right-wing power and privilege.

    I’m old enough to have some memory of this incident. If I’m in the area visiting this historic site would be very worthwhile. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I very much enjoyed (somehow that feels a wrong choice of word) this history lesson Kellye. I am always interested in learning more about U.S. civil rights and have even been lucky enough to see some historic spots myself, most notably in Memphis. I hadn’t heard of this school, what a great job they seem to have done with the place. Indeed it stands as a wonderful testament to the bravery of the 9.

  4. This is so neat that it’s now a historic site! Your pictures are wonderful and I feel like I’m traveling there with you. I’m sure that you both have learned a tremendous amount by traveling.

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