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 – Melba Pattillo, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, and Thelma Mothershed.
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.
They were just teenagers. Real people. High school students. They went to dances and parties. Struggled with acne, calculus and too-early bedtimes. But they changed history in Little Rock in 1957 when they became the first African-American students at Little Rock Central High. Their heroic decision to enroll was backed by the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision that declared segregated schooling unconstitutional.
When the nine showed up at the formerly all-white high school at the beginning of the school year, they were met by an angry mob, a throng of reporters and the National Guard, ordered there by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus to prohibit black students from entering the school.
After three weeks of contentious social, legal and political wrangling, the Little Rock Nine returned to Central High. This time, soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, ordered there by President Dwight Eisenhower, protected them and allowed their entrance.
"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 a number of points on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is a Top Ten stop on the trail.