Little Rock High School, now Central High School National Historic Site, is a national symbol of the often intense struggle over school desegregation. “Parting the Waters” author Taylor Branch calls the Little Rock crisis "the most severe test of the Constitution since the Civil War."
Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court's ‘Brown v. Board of Education’ decision, which officially ended public school segregation, a federal court ordered Little Rock to comply.
On September 4, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus defied the U.S. Supreme Court, calling in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African American students -- ‘The Little Rock Nine’ -- from entering the building. Ten days later in a meeting with President Eisenhower, Faubus agreed to use the National Guard to protect the African American teenagers. On returning to Little Rock, however, he dismissed the troops, leaving the African American students exposed to an angry white mob. Within hours, the mob had beaten several reporters and smashed many of the school's windows and doors. By noon, local police were forced to evacuate the nine students.
When Faubus did not restore order, President Eisenhower dispatched paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and put the Arkansas National Guard under federal command. By 3 a.m., soldiers surrounded the school, bayonets fixed.
Under federal protection, the "Little Rock Nine" finished out the school year. The following year, Faubus closed all the city’s high schools, forcing the African American students to take correspondence courses or go to out-of-state schools. The school board reopened the schools in the fall of 1959, and despite more violence, four of the nine students returned, this time protected by local police. Located on Daisy Bates Drive in Little Rock, Central High is still a working high school, one of the top schools in the state.
Located across the street is the Central High Museum and Visitor Center at 2125 West 14th Street. Housed in a renovated Mobil Service Station, the permanent exhibit, 'All the World is Watching Us: Little Rock and the 1957 Crisis' details the events of the 1957 desegregation crisis at the school.