Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Built in 1927 at a cost of $1.5 million, Central High School in Little Rock was, at the time, the largest and most elegant high school in the nation. It also offered the best education in the city, but only to white students. In 1957 it was the pivotal scene of desegregation of schools mandated by the Supreme Court decision in Brown v Topeka Board of Education that made segregated schools to be unconstitutional according to the 14th Amendment. Although the Little Rock school board agreed to comply with this ruling, it would be done gradually beginning in the fall of 1957. The NAACP registered 9 black students into Central High School, who became known as the Little Rock 9. However, several segregationist councils in the city threatened to hold protests, so Governor Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to keep the peace and support the segregationists blocking the students from entering the school. The sight of the line of National Guard blocking the entrances made national news and polarized the nation. From September 4th until September 24th the black students were denied entrance to the school. President Eisenhower attempted to defuse the situation by meeting with the Governor, but was eventually forced to send the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalize the Arkansas National Guard, taking them out of control of the Governor. By the end of September the nine black students were admitted to Central High School and protected by the soldiers until the end of October. Although now admitted, the 9 black students were subjected to a year of verbal and physical abuse from fellow students and some teachers. Over the summer of 1958, Governor Faubus claimed they had to assert the right and freedom from federal control, he signed acts that would shut down the four public schools in Little Rock with plans to lease the schools as private institutions thus maintaining segregation. The acts also required a referendum within 30 days, which was passed by the citizens of Little Rock. Although the plans to privatize the schools never came about, the four high schools were closed for a year which was marked by a lot of hate crime violence against the African-American community who were blamed for the closing. This put the teachers in a difficult position as they had to swear loyalty to the plan. In May, 1959, 44 teachers were fired along with the administrative staff of the four high schools. However, 3 segregationist education board members were replaced by 3 moderate ones and these teachers were reinstated. The schools reopened for the 1959 school year over the objections of the Governor. This included the now 8 remaining black students, who continued to face abuse and hatred from their fellow students. To commemorate this pivotal time in our history, Central High School was designated a National Historic Site in 1982, although it remains today a functioning integrated school.
1) The Visitor Center is located across the corner from Central High School and contains a number of very interesting exhibits about the events in 1957 and years following. There is also a very interesting video that is more about the impact of student activism, of which Central High School is only one example. They do a very good job of showing the impact small groups of students can have on their community and state politics. However, if you want to learn the history of Central High School itself you will have to visit the exhibits.
2) The National Park Service does conduct tours of the Central High School, however, they are only when school is not in session and you have to book a place on a tour well in advance. You can walk by the front of the school to take pictures from across the street, however, you are asked to stay off the campus during school hours. It is still a very impressive school.