Place

Little Rock Central High School

Little Rock Central High School
Little Rock Central High School

NPS Photo

Quick Facts

Accessible Sites, Benches/Seating, Cellular Signal, Elevator, Scenic View/Photo Spot

An architectural wonder, Little Rock Senior (later Central) High School stood larger and more expensive than any high school when it opened in 1927. In the era of Jim Crow laws and at a time when Supreme Court-mandated policy allowed educational facilities to be "separate but equal", Little Rock Central High School admitted only white students during its first three decades. These students received greater educational opportunity than did their African American counterparts throughout the city.

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 held separate educational facilities to be inherently unequal. Three years after Brown, Little Rock Central High School became the epicenter of a direct challenge to federal authority and enforcement not seen since post-Civil War Reconstruction.In September 1957, angry mobs, the governor of Arkansas and the Arkansas National Guard blocked two attempts by African American students to enter and integrate the school. Later dubbed by the media as the Little Rock Nine, this group of students succeeded on their third attempt. They entered classes on September 25, 1957, escorted by the 101st Airborne, which had been ordered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to enforce the ruling and prevent interference with court orders of integration.

Despite the presence of troops, the Little Rock Nine faced harassment—verbal and violent, private and public, latent and life-altering—throughout the school year. The following year, voters chose in a special election to reject immediate racial integration of all schools within the Little Rock School District, allowing four local high schools to be shuttered for an entire school year.

Today, Little Rock Central High School is still a functioning 9th - 12th grade facility and is not open to the public. Visitors to the National Historic Site can schedule a guided tour in advance which may offer ranger-led limited access into the school (weekdays only; check park website for available dates). If tours are unavailable or not part of your visitation plan, you may walk on the front ground and/or up a stairway to the main entrance at the front of Central High School only. Little Rock Central High boasts impressive statues of four figures over the front entrance representing Ambition, Personality, Opportunity and Preparation. At the 1927 dedication, Lillian McDermott, then-president of the School Board, claimed that the new school "would stand...for decades to come [as] a public school where Ambition is fired, where Personality is developed, where Opportunity is presented and where Preparation in the solution of life's problems is begun." A new statue by Clay Enoch entitled “United” featuring two figures working to close two open and intertwined circles stands guard adjacent to a side entrance on the building’s east side. Note: the stairway and front entrance are not accessible from outside the school; the lower landing and reflecting pool are accessible from the south sidewalk in front of Central High School.

Little Rock Central High School, the only operating high school designated as a National Historic Site, is important beyond its past. Learn how the sacrifice and struggle endured by nine African American teenagers more than a half century ago have provided opportunities and opened doors to those seeking equality—and education—around the world.

A project through the African American Civil Rights Grant Program, which works to document, interpret, and preserve the sites and stories related to the African American struggle to gain equal rights, funded work to rehabilitate Little Rock Central High School. The project focused on repairing and replacing windows on the front façade of the building to help preserve this historic landmark for future generations of students.