Little Rock’s Central High School – Why You Need to Go

Cover of book "Warriors Don't Cry"One of the best books I’ve ever read is “Warriors Don’t Cry” by Melba Pattillo Beals. It’s a little story about her freshman year in high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Ya, we can all tell stories about those rotten years in high school, but I’m pretty sure Melba’s stories have yours beat by a long shot.

Melba was a member of the Little Rock Nine – nine black kids who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957; nine black kids amidst 2,000 white kids; nine black kids protected by the 101st Airborne as ordered by President Dwight Eisenhower.

At 15 years old, she was the youngest of the nine black students. On a regular basis Melba was spit upon until her dresses was soaking wet, sat in a seat covered with broken glass, was pushed down the stairs and had acid thrown in her face. And that was with a member of the 101st Airborne at her side. The 101st Airborne are the guys who helped liberate Normandy, who dropped behind enemy lines on D-Day. That’s how tough it was when Melba Pattillo went to school.

But she wanted the best education her community had to offer. And that was at Central High School. She eventually earned a doctorate in Education.

Little Rock’s Central High School

Exterior of Little Rock Central High School

Central High School was then and remains today an imposing and impressive building.

Little Rock’s Central High School is a National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service. It’s still a functioning high school. But on days when classes are not in session, you can walk these massive hallways and hear stories of those difficult days when the Arkansas National Guard, the 101st Airborne and the people of Little Rock battled through court-ordered desegregation.

Across the street is a visitors center that explains what can’t be experienced in the high school. The story begins with the Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, the emotional condition of the U.S. at this time, the international media coverage as Melba and her eight friends, each morning, fought their way through crowds of angry, often violent, white adults taking their frustrations and fears out on young teenagers.

Civil Rights Monument in Little Rock

Little Rock Nine sculpture at Arkansas CapitolThen head over to the Arkansas State Capitol where, on the north side of the building facing the governor’s office, a massive bronze sculpture honors those nine courageous teenagers.

The only civil rights monument located on the capitol grounds of a southern state, it’s called “Testaments.”

If you’re a parent, you need to take your children to Little Rock to experience this. If you’re a human being with a conscience and a sense of justice, you need to bring yourself here to understand.

And never again complain how tough your day has been.

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