The Top 5 Stops on Little Rock's Civil Rights Self-Guided Tour
Little Rock is a city where our past continues to guide our future. Through struggles and triumphs, the fight for civil rights for all Americans played out across Little Rock, and the memory of their courage will inspire us forever. And nowhere is that more evident than on our self-guided Civil Rights tour. These 11 sites, six of which are stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, tell the stories of pioneering Arkansans who shaped Little Rock throughout its history. The entire tour is worth taking, but here are five of our favorite stops.
William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park
The Presidential library of Bill Clinton resides within the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. The 30-acre campus includes the Clinton Presidential Library, the offices of the Clinton Foundation, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and the full-service restaurant 42 Bar and Table. The library features exhibits that chronicle Bill Clinton's presidency, focusing on expanding civil rights to peoples around the world. Exhibits also include exact replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room.
While you're there, see the Anne Frank tree planted on the Center's ground. The tree has grown from a seed taken from the exact chestnut tree that Anne Frank mentioned in her diary as growing outside her window. Little Rock holds the unique distinction of being the only city in the world to be gifted two such trees from the Anne Frank Foundation.
Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center collects, preserves, interprets, and celebrates Arkansas's unique African American political, economic, and social achievements from 1865 to 1950. The Center resides in the footprint of the original Mosaic Templars of America National Headquarters and Annex buildings, founded by a Black fraternal order that provided illness, death, and burial insurance during an era when few basic services were available to Black people. The permanent museum exhibits depict Little Rock's historic West Ninth Street as a thriving commercial and social hub, focusing on Black entrepreneurship, the Templars organization, and the legacy of Black legislators. In addition to community educational programs, the Center offers a genealogy research room, a stunning art collection, and a well-stocked store. The Center's third floor features a replica of the original Headquarters building auditorium and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame galleries.
First Missionary Baptist Church
This pioneering African American church in Little Rock was established in 1845 by Reverend Wilson Brown. In 1882, the church permanently located at 701 S. Gaines Street. The original building still stands today and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. First Missionary Baptist serves parishioners and also hosts many social and political events. In 1891, hundreds of citizens met here to protest the state's recently enacted Separate Coach Law that segregated passenger cars and waiting rooms in train stations. They marched from the church to the then state capitol, now the Old State House. In 1963, four months before his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited First Missionary Baptist to deliver the church's 118th anniversary sermon.
You can learn more about Little Rock's religious history, including many historically Black churches on our Historic Church Self-Guided Tour.
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
In September 1957, Little Rock Central High School was at the center of international attention when Governor Orval E. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine Black children from attending the all-white school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later federalized the National Guard and sent in federal troops to escort the students to class. The school became a crucial battleground in the struggle for civil rights. Dramatic media images of the conflict seared themselves into public memory. The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and Visitor Center opened in September 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of the school's desegregation. The interactive displays include interviews with the "Little Rock Nine" and historic video clips. The Center presents a broad view of civil and human rights struggles in the United States and around the world. Little Rock Central High School is the only functioning high school in the United States to be located within the boundary of a National Historic Site.
The Little Rock Nine are Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls, and you can learn more about their story here.
Daisy Bates House Museum
This was the home of L.C. and Daisy Bates, civil rights activists and co-owners and publishers of the Arkansas State Press newspaper. During the 1957 school desegregation crisis of Little Rock Central High School, the home functioned as headquarters for the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to attend the school. It was a refuge, a place to study and receive counseling to contend with the frequent harassment by white students and other staunch segregationists who demonstrated outside the school. Bates was also president of the Arkansas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Nine also used the home to meet with the NAACP legal team that included eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. For taking a stand against segregated schools, L.C. and Daisy Bates had numerous objects hurled at their home during the school crisis and had several fiery crosses - an emblem of the white supremacist terror organization the Ku Klux Klan - burned on their lawn.