Thursday, February 28, 2019

Shot of the Day - 32 – Little Rock Central High School

Little Rock Central High School (16 June 2008)

Before I visited and photographed the Arkansas State Capitol, I went to see a landmark in our nation’s civil rights history. It seems a suitable note for Black History Month.

Built in 1927, Little Rock Central High School was, at the time, the largest and most expensive high school constructed in the nation. By 1957, I was an elementary school kid in New York and remember when the big national news story was about the simple act of a few students trying to go to school.

Three years after the Supreme Court found public school segregation unconstitutional, Little Rock could no longer delay integration. A federal court order had to be implemented to allow nine brave black kids into Central High. The neighborhood erupted in protest and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus activated the National Guard to keep the kids out. President Eisenhower trumped Faubus by sending in troops from the 101st Airborne Division. 

From Google Images

I have seen this classic photograph dozens of times. It is one of the 
images that always appears when the story of Central High is told. 
Despite Google Images caution about respecting copyrights and 
authorship, it took  much digging to find one attribution. 
The Granger Historical Picture Archive 
credits Will Counts for taking the picture.

Even with the increase in reported incidents of racial animus of late, it’s difficult to imagine how bitterly, openly hateful some white folks were…not all that long ago. I had to add this shot from those tense days in Little Rock. Can you just feel the warm welcome they got from their fellow students and neighbors? Not so much.

“I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the mob—someone who maybe would help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.”
Elizabeth Eckford (Age 15; pictured above)

They were cursed and threatened in the street and ignored by everyone once they entered the building.

In 1957, 92 years had passed since the Civil War ended slavery (I know it was the 13th Amendment). The point is it took well over a century to make things right…legally at least. Today, we can point to examples of backsliding. My wife observed that in our nation’s long history, we have generally trended in a positive direction. Some problems certainly took too long to redress but the overall path of the country seemed progressive. She never thought there would come a time when improvements were curtailed and the nation would go backwards.

Since 1998, the school and some nearby properties have been designated a National Historic Site. It’s worth a visit if you are in Arkansas’s capital.


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