Weekly Columns

It’s been 60 years since nine African American students integrated Little Rock Central High School. These courageous teens challenged the status quo, facing an angry mob and hostile classmates head-on. They were pioneers in the fight for equality and continue to be a voice for progress. 

In its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” unconstitutional. The process of desegregating public schools was complex and faced incredible opposition. In September of 1957, the Little Rock Nine were determined to receive the same education that had only been available to their white peers, not knowing their memories of their first days of school would be something written about in history books and reflected upon decades later. 

On the first day of class, Little Rock Central High School became ground zero in the movement for public integration. Governor Orval Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard to block students from entering the school. Eventually, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to Little Rock and federalized the Arkansas National Guard to protect the students and ensure public safety.

Even though they were allowed to attend Central High, the students were still subjected to daunting abuse and taunting from students and school leaders. Each of them chose to confront injustice and inequality in a very visible and courageous way.  

The integration of Central High serves as a poignant reminder of where we’ve been as a country, but also where we are headed. The story of those students and their legacy is important to the history of our country and the fight for equality.

I’m proud to support legislation to expand the boundary of the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in order to preserve the surrounding buildings as they looked on the first day of school for these nine students.

In addition to the Little Rock Central National Historic Site, the importance of this event to our nation is being told through an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Several of the nine students donated items for display in order to tell their story about the fight to obtain the same quality education.

I am grateful that they are willing to share their memories for the entire country to observe and understand, and I encourage all Arkansans to tour this museum when visiting our nation’s capital. 

This anniversary gives us all the chance to remember and reflect upon the Central High integration and the Little Rock Nine, and also to educate younger generations about the struggle for equal rights. I am eager to continue working with my fellow Arkansans and all Americans as we pursue a better future for our children, our grandchildren and ourselves.