We took a day off from our westward migration today to see a bit of Little Rock, which in the past we always whizzed by on the Interstate.
In the morning we headed for Central High School, scene of one of the seminal confrontations of the civil rights era. Our route took us along the Wilbur Mills Freeway. I was hoping for a Fanne Foxx exit but no such luck. (If you don’t get that, look it up.)
Central is a grand pile of a building constructed in 1927. For many years it was the largest high school in the country and considered one of the best. In 1957 it became a flashpoint when nine black students tried to enroll, as they were entitled to do under the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision three years earlier. It is now a National Historic Site, the only one at a working high school.
There’s a visitor center across the street; the Mobil station on the corner, where reporters lined up to use the phoneto call in their stories; and, of course, the school itself.
We took a guided tour, which was supposed to last an hour and a half but ended up taking three. Our guide, Ranger Randy, was terrific and extremely knowledgeable. He has met several of the Little Rock nine and had many fascinating stories to tell.
Perhaps the most interesting was what happened to the students after they were finally enrolled and the TV cameras left. They were subjected to steady harassment and abuse by some of the white students and discrimination by the teachers. Though they had guards with them, those guards were as prejudiced as other whites and provided little protection. One said his job was just to prevent anyone from being killed. Anything short of that was apparently OK.
Because it’s still a working high school, we saw only the outside, the entry hall, and the 2,000-seat auditorium. But the real value was Randy’s commentary. Highly recommended if you’re ever in Little Rock.