I don’t really have a bucket list, but I do have an idea in the back of my mind of places I’d like to visit. Little Rock, Arkansas, has been on this list for quite some time. I didn’t make it there on my Retirement Road Trip, my seven-week solo trip across the country in 2005. Tim and I didn’t make it there on our nine-month Road Trip Ramble.
When we decided to backtrack to Arkansas, Little Rock was one place I was determined to visit.
Tim and I left Hot Springs on Sunday, December 7, and arrived in Little Rock an hour later. Our first stop was Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. This site had been on my radar for quite some time, but I especially wanted to stop here after visiting Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in October.
In September 1957 Little Rock Central High School became the site of the first important test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Nine African American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” attempted to enter the all-white school, only to be turned away by the Arkansas National Guard under the orders of Governor Orval Faubus. This defiance of the Supreme Court ruling led President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send in Army troops to protect and escort the students for the entire school year. Eisenhower thus became the first president since Reconstruction to use federal troops to enforce civil rights.
Little Rock Central High School is still an operating high school and is not open except by guided tour. Unfortunately tours are not offered on the weekend, but the park’s visitor center provides excellent exhibits that tell the story of the fight to desegregate public schools, as well as the continuing struggle for equal rights. I thought I was knowledgeable about the events at Little Rock, but there was so much I didn’t know.
Here I discovered the impact of the news media on the events at Little Rock and how the media focused the world’s attention on Central High School. Television news was in its infancy then, and the crisis at Little Rock was one of the first news stories filmed as events occurred. Powerful images were shown around the world, and it was these photographs that helped to spur President Eisenhower to act. It was fascinating to listen to news commentator Mike Wallace as he explained the role of the media, as well as to read the sometimes conflicting headlines from local, national and international newspapers.
|Crisis at Central High
|"I Got Up Every Morning, Polished My Saddle Shoes, and Went Off to War."
|News Reports Were Broadcast from the Magnolia Mobil Service Station
I had an interesting conversation with a young ranger who told me the National Park Service tries to present all sides of the story, including the misguided convictions of the people of Little Rock who tried to prevent the students from attending the school. How hard that must be.
After leaving the visitor center, Tim and I walked across the street to get a closer look at the school. Although the school is known more for the historic events that occurred there, I was also able to appreciate Central High School as a magnificent piece of architecture. It is a huge school that houses more than 2,000 students, and it reminded me a bit of the high school I attended in Baltimore.
|Little Rock Central High School
|A Beautiful School
Tim and I ended our visit with a walk through the Commemorative Garden, a quiet place to reflect on the triumph over intolerance. While sitting there, I asked Tim if he would have had the courage to face what the Little Rock Nine suffered throughout their entire school year. He answered, “Not with the grace which they displayed as they endured that torment.” I’m not sure I would have had the courage in the first place. They were just kids and had to withstand what most adults could never imagine. I so admire their courage and their conviction.
|Commemorative Garden - A Place for Reflection
After a thought-provoking visit to Central High School, Tim and I stopped at the Arkansas State Capitol. Since it was not open, we headed down to the River Market district for a bite to eat. This area is located along the Arkansas River and is downtown Little Rock’s dining, shopping and entertainment district. I was a bit surprised that there were so few people on the street on a Sunday afternoon, but the restaurants were open and we did enjoy a great pizza.
|Arkansas State Capitol
|River Market District
Just across the river was our destination for the next two nights – the Downtown Riverside RV Park in North Little Rock. The campground is not much more than a gravel parking lot, but its location was priceless for us. All sites have a view of the Arkansas River, and the park is located on the Arkansas River trail. Next to the park is a pedestrian bridge that leads to the Clinton Presidential Center. This meant that we could leave the RV behind and walk everywhere, or take the electric streetcar. We couldn’t ask for much more than that. An added bonus was the nighttime illumination of the downtown bridges.
|Holiday Lightng Installation on the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge