Seats still open for “In Their Own Voices” teacher workshop on racism, at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

October 16, 2012

E-mail from the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, with a training opportunity for teachers:

In Their Own Voices workshop

October 20-21, 2012

Arkansas Dept. of Education professional development workshop at Little Rock Central High School NHS

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site invites Arkansas educators and community advocates to participate in a two day workshop focusing on challenging racism prevalent in and out of the classroom and the community. This program, an approved ADE professional development workshop, will bring participants together for an open reflection and dialogue on the effects of racism and the diversity of our own self-understanding. The overarching goal for our In Their Own Voices workshop is to afford our participants an opportunity to identify their own biases and feel comfortable in their space to approach such issues as race, bullying, tolerance and other-isms in the classroom and the community. To apply, please click attachment below and send to Agnolia Gay at

Registration for workshop

Move quickly! (That’s this weekend.)  If anyone from Dallas is headed up, please let me know.

Little Rock Central High School

Little Rock Central High School, National Historical Site Visitors Center –  (Photo credit: bigskyred)

55th anniversary of the Little Rock 9: Civil Rights festival

September 6, 2012


This month marks the 55th anniversary of the first attempt to desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School, by the nine brave students known as the Little Rock Nine.

Now the school carries a designation as a National Historic Site, managed by the National Park Service.  A Visitors Center for interpretation and information stands across the street — and that will be the center of the official commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the desegregation crisis.  Experts, scholars, celebrities, and a film festival.

Ain’t that great about America?  We have a great crisis; it takes a couple of years but we work through it.  Then we designate the site for historical purposes, and within a half-century we have a festival where, among other things, we note how much progress we’ve made as a nation in living up to the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Indpendence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and the Letter from Birmingham Jail.  Only in America, right?

Here’s a list of events and activities I got in e-mail today.  If you’re in the area Sepember 21 through 25, go see.  Call for reservations.

55th Anniversary Commemoration Events

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, in partnership with the Little Rock Film Festival, commemorates the 55th anniversary of the desegregation crisis with a variety of events this month. The events, which take place in various venues, are FREE and open to the public, but tickets are required.

Events run from Friday, Sept. 21 – Tuesday, Sept. 25 and will include appearances by:

The Little Rock Nine
Tuesday, Sept. 25th at Argenta Community Theater

Tuesday, Sept. 25th at Argenta Community Theater

Sunday, Sept. 23rd at Argenta Community Theater
Friday, Sept. 21 – Tuesday, Sept. 25 – The Reel Civil Rights Film Festival
Miss Representation
The Little Rock Film Festival presents The Reel Civil Rights Film Festival which will be featuring documentaries and films related to past and present civil and human rights issues in the United States and abroad; an intimate conversation with iconic Olympic Gold Medalist Tommie Smith; guest directors; panel discussions; and a special awards ceremony to honor the Little Rock Nine and humanitarian Harry Belafonte.
Saturday, Sept. 22 – MTV’s “Real World” Kevin Powell Speaks!
Kevin Powell
Kevin Powell, activist, writer, public speaker, and entrepreneur speaks at Oxford American Magazine, located at 1300 Main St. in Little Rock at 10 am.
Tuesday, Sept. 25 – Film Screening, Ceremony to honor Little Rock Nine and Harry Belafonte
Sing Your Song
Screening of Harry Belafonte’s documentary, Sing Your Song: The Music, Hope and Vision of a Man and an Era, guest remarks by Mr. Belafonte; and an awards ceremony to honor both the Little Rock Nine and Belafonte at Argenta Community Theater, located at 405 Main St. in North Little Rock at 6 pm.
For a complete line up of events and ticket information, please follow the link below:
To reserve tickets for the FREE events, please visit
or drop by Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
visitor center
About Us
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is located at 2120 W. Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, diagonally across the street from Central High School. The visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., seven days a week.  Admission is free. For more information, call 501.374.1957 or email
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
2120 W. Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive
Little Rock, Arkansas 72202


Little Rock’s Central High School, monument for civil rights

July 1, 2011

On the way out of Little Rock, Arkansas, after our day at the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, we stopped at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

Little Rock Central High School in 2011, photo by Ed Darrell - use permitted with attribution

Little Rock Central High School in 2011, photo by Ed Darrell - use permitted with attribution

In 1957 nine African American kids tried to enroll at the school, breaking high school segregation in Little Rock.  After assuring President Dwight Eisenhower that the Arkansas National Guard would preserve the peace, Gov. Orval Faubus ordered the Guard to keep the students out.  Eisenhower called up the Guard to federal duty, and sent in the 101st Airborne from the regular U.S. Army to enforce the desegregation rules.  (Imagine any president doing that today!)

Pre-Art Deco front of Little Rock Central High School, built in 1927 - photo 2011 by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Pre-Art Deco front of Little Rock Central High School, built in 1927

Eventually Little Rock closed down all the schools for more than a year, and then federal courts ordered the schools opened, but desegregated.  One black student graduated that first year, Ernest Green.  The other eight all graduated, but from other schools around the world.

Today, it’s history, even in Little Rock.

Little Rock Central High remains in use today.  The National Park Service maintains a visitor center across the intersection from the school, with the old Magnolia Oil gas station, restored, on another corner, and a monument to the Little Rock Nine and civil rights on the remaining corner  (Magnolia Oil was absorbed into Mobil, which took on Magnolia’s flying horse emblem).  Our Dallas Independent School District, Teaching American History Grant group visited in mid-June.  Classes were out.   The visitor center remains open year around.

I was particularly curious to see whether and how the historical events, and the commemoration of them, affect the school itself.

Hallway inside Little Rock Central High School, photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

The hallway outside the auditorium on the main floor of Little Rock Central High School.

On the inside, it’s a normal American high school — though in a grand building (I’d compare this to Ogden, Utah’s Ogden High School, a WPA-style project of a decade later’s construction, and a grand old building students and citizens have come to love).

Walls bear posters from student clubs.  Signs direct students to classes, or the auditorium, or the lunchroom.  The office looks more like the 1970s than the 1930s — I suspect it has been updated.  Ceilings have been redone since 1927, with newer fluorescent lighting and acoustic ceiling tiles, which only brings the architecture of 1927 down to 1970s box-style building standards.

Sign announcing a club meeting, Little Rock Central High School, 2011 - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Walls of Little Rock Central carry notices of club meetings, much as in 1957. Some of the clubs have changed; the Gay-Straight Alliance probably was not active in LIttle Rock in 1957. Changes in U.S. culture in the 54 years since the Little Rock Nine, are reflected in the citizens and their actions, and not necessarily in the physical buildings.

It’s a working school, and not a monument on a pedestal frozen in time in any sense.

The school opened 30 years before it became an icon in the struggle for civil rights.   It is a massive structure, intended perhaps as a sort of monument to Little Rock and to Education.  NPS describes it at their website:

Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long and includes 150,000 square feet of floor space. More than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel went into the building’s construction. It cost $1.5 million to construct in 1927. The school received extensive publicity upon its opening. An article in the Arkansas Gazette said, “we have hundreds of journalists in our fair city for the dedication” of the new high school.

At its construction, Central’s auditorium seated 2,000 people and included a 60 x 160 ft. stage that doubled as the gymnasium. A new library was built in 1969 and named for longtime principal Jess W. Matthews.  In 1953 the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of construction of a new high school for white students, Hall High School in Pulaski Heights.

Computer classroom at Little Rock Central High, June 2011 - photo by Ed Darrell; use premitted with attribution

Computer classroom at Little Rock Central High - Historic preservation cannot prevent the updating of classroom technology. Wiring these classroomms for computer networks must be quite difficult.

I thought it interesting that the original construction did not include a library.  The auditorium’s doubling as a basketball gymnasium explains the massive stage — suitable for Las Vegas, really.  “Multi-purpose” building for schools originated much earlier than the 1970s as I had imagined.  The 1927 plans included neither the tendency to overbuild fschools for athletics, nor today’s pre-occupation with making schools appear as academic enclaves.

Visiting the site you can learn that the $1.5 million cost consumed the entire building budget for the district in 1927.  In keeping with the separate but equal doctrine of the times (see Plessy v. Ferguson), the Little Rock district “planned” to build a high school for blacks at the same time.  No money remained for either design or construction.

City leaders — I would imagine black city leaders, without much help from whites, but I may be too cynical — raised money to pay the same architects to create a complementary design for the school that would be called Dunbar.  Private funding paid for construction, too.  Exactly this sort of discrimination against blacks roiled across America from 1896 into the 1950s — only 16 states banned discrimination by race, with laws that were not always enforced.  These issues were key to several of the cases rolled into the Supreme Court appeal that we usually call simply The Brown Decision — facilities were involved in the cases in Topeka, Kansas, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.

Looking at Little Rock Central High School today one can see the physical manifestation of the insidious separate but equal doctrine, and understand perhaps why it collided with the drive for rights in Little Rock, at the corner of 14th Street and South Park Street.  The school’s address is listed as 1500 South Park.  14th Street, running along the north edge of campus, has been renamed Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, in honor of the NAACP organizer who provided wise counsel, sage advice, a ride to school on most mornings and friendship to the students who made up the Little Rock Nine.

A large amount of history resides in Little Rock.

Ha! — You don’t need to rely on my photos at all.  Turns out NPS has a photo slide show at their website.  Note how my ideas paralleled theirs — and honest, I didn’t see that before our tour.  Actually, the auditorium curtains were closed, nor did we get into the balcony — the photo from NPS is much better than any I got.

Nota bene: The intense, three-year program of study of U.S. history for this three dozen or so teachers is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a Teaching American History Grant.  Such grants fund the study of American history for teachers across the nation, to spur better teaching from greater understanding and knowledge of history.  These grants generally float at the top of the pool of programs to be cut first when the budget axes fall.  We are grateful to the Department of Education.  And while my writings here do not necessarily reflect the views of any of my employers, past or present, they should — and the Senate, Department of Education and others in the stream of funding would be well-advised to continue these grants.

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