We visit Little Rock Senior High School

Trip Start Apr 18, 2007
Trip End Oct 16, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Arkansas
Friday, August 31, 2007

An OK nights sleep and we didn't awake until 9.30pm whereupon we headed off for the Presidential Library which is this large mobile home looking building overhanging the River Arkansas. It is $8 to get in and really isn't worth it. The Truman library told the whole story of his life whereas this place focused on the 8 years via numerous audio/visual displays that all overlap each other in a cacophony of noise - like an MTV video. It is also a big PR thing rather than a balanced set of displays about his life and his presidency. Overall there was so much stuff that we were left without any clear understanding of his accomplishments.

We walked down President Bill Clinton Blvd and found a great bar (Flying Saucer) which had about 50 beers on draught and 200 beers overall.

The main event of the day turned out to be the visit to the Little Rock High School which had been a focal point in the integration of schooling in the South in the late 50s. Eisenhower even sent in the same parachute regiment who'd held Bastogne against insupportable odds as part of The Battle of the Bulge in WWII.

Built in 1927 at a cost of $1.5 million, Little Rock Senior High School, later to be renamed Little Rock Central High, was hailed as the most expensive, most beautiful, and largest high school in the nation. Its opening earned national publicity with nearly 20,000 people attending the dedication ceremony. The next two decades there were typical of those at most American high schools, but historic events in the 1950s changed education at Central High School and throughout the United States.

LRCHS was the focal point of the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957. Nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were denied entrance to the school in defiance of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering integration of public schools. This provoked a showdown between the Governor Orval Faubus and President Dwight D. Eisenhower that gained international attention.

On the morning of September 23, 1957, the nine black high school students faced an angry mob of over 1,000 whites protesting integration in front of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. As the students were escorted inside by the Little Rock police, violence escalated and they were removed from the school. The next day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the 1,200-man 327th Airborne Battle Group of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell to escort the nine students into the school. By the same order, the entire 10,000 Arkansas National Guard was federalized, to take them out of the hands of Governor Faubus. At nearby Camp Robinson, a hastily organized Task Force 153rd Infantry drew guardsmen from units all over the state. Most of the Arkansas Guard was quickly demobilized, but the ad hoc TF153Inf assumed control at Thanksgiving when the 327th withdrew, and patrolled inside and outside the school for the remainder of the school year. As Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the nine students, remembered, and quoted in her book, "After three full days inside Central [High School], I know that integration is a much bigger word than I thought."

This event, watched by the nation and world, was the site of the first important test for the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. Arkansas became the epitome of state resistance when the governor, Orval Faubus, directly questioned the authority of the federal court system and the validity of desegregation. The crisis at Little Rock's Central High School was the first fundamental test of the national resolve to enforce black civil rights in the face of massive southern defiance during the years following the Brown decision.

The current museum is in a old gasoline station but is to move to a new larger location over the road to be inaugurated on 24th September on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine entering Central.
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