The 1957 Civil Rights crisis put Little Rock and Little Rock Central High on front pages worldwide and introduced the world to the Little Rock Nine.
The surviving members of the Little Rock Nine were honored at Little Rock Central High School in November 2017, the 60th anniversary of the the integration of school.
In the fall of 1957, Little Rock became the symbol of state resistance to school desegregation. Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus directly questioned the sanctity of the federal court system and the authority of the United States Supreme Court's desegregation ruling while nine Black high school students sought an education at the all-white Little Rock Central High School.
The controversy in Little Rock was the first fundamental test of the United States' resolve to enforce civil rights in the face of massive southern defiance during the period following the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decisions. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower was compelled by white mob violence to use federal troops to ensure the rights of Black children to attend the previously all-white school, he became the first president since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period to use federal troops in support of civil rights.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that made the school a National Historic Site to "preserve, protect, and interpret for the benefit, education, and inspiration of present and future generations…its role in the integration of public schools and the development of the civil rights movement in the United States."
Photo courtesy of Indiana University, Will Counts Collection
The Little Rock Nine are Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls. In 1957 they were just teenagers, ranging in age from 15-17, but they were already among the bravest Arkansans. When they decided to be the first to desegregate the school, they likely couldn't have foreseen the way their actions would captivate the nation's attention.
The images of nine frightened children being assaulted by white mobs on their way to school burned themselves into the minds and hearts of Americans watching their plight on television. They quickly came to embody the fight for all Americans to have the right to attend the school of their choice regardless of their race.
Today, the Little Rock Nine are revered as civil rights pioneers and activists. Their story is interpreted at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center, a memorial enshrines their memory on the grounds of Arkansas State Capitol, and you can find artifacts from their harrowing journey in museums across America.
You can walk the halls of Central High School, tour the rooms of the Daisy Bates house where the students planned out their journey, and even sit in the very same booths at the Lassis Inn where the students came to relax.
"Testament," a monument dedicated to the Little Rock Nine by Arkansas artist John Deering, is located on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.
The struggle for equal rights was by no means over when Ernest Green — the only senior among the Nine — graduated in May of 1958, but the path they blazed for others to follow became a significant turning point. Today, the 1957 Little Rock Central High crisis symbolizes the resistance to social change and the federal government’s commitment to civil rights and is studied in classrooms around the country.
Today, Little Rock Central High students are keenly aware of their school’s legacy as they study in the only high school operating within a National Park Historic site.
Little Rock is now home to six points on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail and is a Top Ten destination on the trail.