The United States Civil Rights Trail connects more than 100 sites across 14 states, allowing visitors to witness the destinations and landmarks that defined the American civil rights story. When the U.S. Civil Rights Trail debuted in 2018, six Little Rock locations were included, and Little Rock was named one of the trail’s Top Ten destinations.
In September 1957, Little Rock Central High School was at the center of international attention when Governor Orval E. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine Black students from attending the all-white school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later federalized the National Guard and sent in federal troops to escort the students to class. The school became a crucial battleground in the struggle for civil rights. Dramatic media images of the conflict seared themselves into public memory. The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and Visitor Center opened in September 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of the school’s desegregation. The interactive displays include interviews with the Little Rock Nine and historic video clips. The Center presents a broad view of civil and human rights struggles in the United States and around the world. Little Rock Central High School is the only functioning high school in the United States to be located within the boundary of a National Historic Site within the National Park Service.
The Presidential library of Bill Clinton resides within the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. The 30-acre campus includes the Clinton Presidential Library, the offices of the Clinton Foundation, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and the full-service restaurant 42 bar and table. The library features exhibits that chronicle Bill Clinton’s presidency, focusing on expanding civil rights to peoples around the world. Exhibits also include exact replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room.
Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center collects, preserves, interprets, and celebrates Arkansas’s unique African American political, economic, and social achievement from 1865 to 1950. The Center resides in the footprint of the original Mosaic Templars of America National Headquarters and Annex buildings, founded by a Black fraternal order that provided illness, death, and burial insurance during an era when few basic services were available to Black people. The permanent museum exhibits depict Little Rock’s historic West Ninth Street as a thriving commercial and social hub, focusing on Black entrepreneurship, the Templars organization, and the legacy of Black legislators. In addition to community educational programs, the Center offers a genealogy research room, a stunning art collection, and a well-stocked store. The Center’s third floor features a replica of the original Headquarters Building auditorium and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame galleries.
The Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail is an ever-growing collection of sites in Little Rock that were significant to the civil rights movement. Created by the Anderson Institute of Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the trail starts with sidewalk markers just outside the Old State House Museum and will eventually stretch all the way to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Honorees have included sit-in participants and freedom riders, the Little Rock Nine – the first students to desegregate Little Rock Central High School, those responsible for desegregating downtown Little Rock, and professionals in the areas of healthcare, politics, law, and economic advancement.
This was the home of L.C. and Daisy Bates, civil rights activists and co-owners and publishers of the Arkansas State Press newspaper. During the 1957 school desegregation crisis of Little Rock Central High School, the home functioned as headquarters for the Little Rock Nine, the first Black students to attend the school. It was a refuge, and a place to study and receive counseling to contend with the frequent harassment by white students and other staunch segregationists who demonstrated outside the school. Bates was also president of the Arkansas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Nine also used the home to meet with the NAACP legal team that included eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. For taking a stand against segregated schools, L.C. and Daisy Bates had numerous objects hurled at their home during the school crisis and had several fiery crosses—an emblem of the white supremacist terror organization the Ku Klux Klan—burned on their lawn.
This memorial honors the courage of the nine Black students enrolled at Little Rock Central High School who began the process of desegregating the city’s public schools in 1957. Located on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol, the memorial features bronze sculptures of the nine, along with plaques bearing quotations from each of them. Purposefully, they face the governor’s office window to serve as a constant reminder for whomever holds that office to always do what is morally just rather than what is politically expedient.
The Little Rock Nine are Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls.
Each of these sites is featured on the self-guided Little Rock Civil Rights Tour, but they can also be experienced individually or as a group.