Little Rock Central High – A School With a Big History

While staying in Little Rock, the attraction I was most looking forward to seeing was the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.   My visit here was as interesting and thought provoking as I had hoped and one of the highlights of our trip so far.  It was a great follow up to the Brown vs. Board of Education site in Topeka, Kansas.

On the first day of school in September 1957, nine African American students set out to attend Little Rock Central High, an all white high school to begin desegregation.  They were stopped from entering when the Governor of Arkansas, Faubus ordered the National Guard to bar them for their “safety.”

Above is a famous photo of a white student yelling at one of the “Little Rock Nine.”  In the book store I found a book titled “Elizabeth and Hazel, Two Women of Little Rock,” about how these two students many decades later became involved in each other’s lives.  I have put it on my “to read” list.

President Eisenhower ordered that troops be sent to to assist in the desegregation and 1,200 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division protected  the Little Rock Nine as they entered the school.  The 101st Airborne remained at the school until November.  It was interesting to us because many years ago Mark and I served in the 101st Airborne.   Above is a photo of the street in front of the school.  I found the neighborhood to be quiet and it is hard to picture hundreds of angry people crowded into the narrow street to protest in September 1957.

I took a guided tour with a National Park ranger.   Our first stop was the gas station across the street.  The station has been preserved as it was during the 1950’s.  Reporters gathered here to cover the news of the segregation and on the first day ended up protecting the Little Rock Nine from the mob that was trying to hurt them.

The school is located across from the gas station.  I was impressed by the size and beauty of the building.  It was built in 1927 at a cost of 1.5 million, the nation’s largest and most expensive high school at that time.  Much of the interior is original and I felt transported back to 1957.  While drama students conducted an informal class on stage, we sat in original seats in the main auditorium while the ranger explained to us what happened during the desegregation.  Being in the building and hearing the stories made it so much more real than if we had been back at the visitor center.  It was difficult to hear the accounts of the cruelty of the white students as they tried to physically injure, verbally abuse and drive away the Little Rock Nine throughout the school year.  We learned however that not all students acted out with resentment, some were friendly and helpful, but many others did nothing to ease the transition.   Below is a picture of the school cafeteria, the only place we were allowed to take pictures as long as students were not around.

While our tour continued in one of the hallways, the final school bell for the day rang and students started filing out of classes and crowding into the halls.  It was our signal to also go and we made our way out with some of the 2500 students that attend.  We were told during our visit that the school offers some impressive academic classes including five foreign languages, many AP and pre-AP classes and a number of service, academic and honors clubs.

Our tour concluded at a small memorial park across from the visitor center.  It features two arches with photo collages of important events that commemorate the Little Rock Nine.

The Arkansas capitol is a beautiful and stately building that I enjoyed visiting.  (As I have probably said before, I love looking at the state capitols)!   It was completed in 1915 and built on the grounds of the state penitentiary.  The state used 200 convicts to level the prison and build a new state capitol in its place.

My favorite room in the capitol was the Governor’s Reception Room on the second floor with many original furnishings.   When visiting the capitols, I find it interesting how many places visitors can wander on their own, including this room which is used as the Governor’s conference space.

The capitol has six 10-foot tall bronze doors which were purchased from Tiffany’s of New York in 1910 for $10,000 and are now reported to be worth $250,000.  The doors are polished inside and out each week to maintain their luster.

My favorite monument on the capitol grounds honors the Little Rock Nine.

The Old Mill, a tribute to Arkansas pioneers was built in North Little Rock in 1933.  Although it resembles early grist mills, it was never actually a working site.  It was constructed to look abandoned, so does not have doors and windows.

It was designed to look whimsical and has fake wooden bridges and benches that appear real from a distance.   The mill and surrounding ponds, creeks and gardens are quite pretty and fun to check out.  It is a popular place for weddings and photo shoots.

While visiting here, I thought of my friend Valerie.  As a fan of the movie “Gone With the Wind,” she may or may not know that this Old Mill is the last standing structure from the film.  It was featured in the opening scene.   I had to check this claim out on You Tube since it had been decades since I had seen the movie and sure enough there it was.

Thanks for your kind attention.  In the next blog I will be writing about the beginning of our stay in Louisiana and Cajun Country.

6 thoughts on “Little Rock Central High – A School With a Big History”

  1. So fascinating about the Arkansas 9. Just trying to imagine the courage of those students. So amazing. I want to try to find a good documentary on them (and hopefully make it to Arkansas ourselves!) I think the most I know about them is from Forrest Gump!!! Maybe the country tries to hide these scars of its history? I just watched a fantastic movie called Loving about an interracial couple in Virginia and the racism/laws of this same era. Incredible. Great post. I want to go to Arkansas now!!

    1. Thanks Matt! Yes, the Little Rock Nine is such a thought provoking exhibit. I hope you can see it some day, very worthwhile visit!

  2. There seems to be so much interesting history in Arkansas and I really love that Old Mill. I was really surprised with all of the great stuff who saw in this state. Its one of the states I would have thought wouldn’t have been as interesting.

    1. Shannon, Arkansas is a neat state to visit – you guys should plan a trip there some year. There are a number of great state parks and scenic areas – lots of culture too.

  3. I had no idea about the mill, Beth! That’s so cool! Thanks for that bit of trivia! I’m enjoying all your adventures!! Looks like you and Mark are enjoying retirement!

    1. Thanks for the nice comment Valerie, we appreciate hearing from you! Glad you liked the Old Mill trivia. In my opinion, one of the most interesting things about traveling is finding unique places with unexpected histories. It is fun to discover them.

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