Place

Commemorative Garden

Commemorative Garden at dusk
Commemorative Garden at dusk

NPS Photo

Quick Facts

Accessible Sites, Benches/Seating, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Scenic View/Photo Spot, Trash/Litter Receptacles, Wheelchair Accessible

The Commemorative Garden, adjacent to both the visitor center on South Park Street and the north side of Little Rock Central High School, documents a photographic history inlaid on brick and concrete arches as a reminder of the bravery of the Little Rock Nine and a legacy of Central High School. Within this space are nine benches and nine trees to provide seating and shade for a visitor to sit and reflect in this tranquil landscape.

The arches and accompanying sculptures, designed by Michael Warrick and Aaron Hussey, surround a poem etched into a concrete circle – “The Spirit of Central High.” Inside the arches are reflective photographic panels showing the history of Central High from its construction before 1927, through its struggle for desegregation in 1957/The Lost Year as well as recent images of Central High School’s student life and activity.

The Central High Commemorative Garden was dedicated on September 25, 2001 - the 44th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine's successful entrance into Central High School under protected escort by the 101st Airborne. The nine trees accompanied by nine benches symbolize the strength of the Little Rock Nine line the garden path and offer a place to contemplate the past, present and future. The beautifully landscaped garden of winding paths leading to a circular plaza features triumphant arches in the middle of the garden. As major contributors to the sculpture, Dr. and Mrs. Tom Bruce envisioned the Commemorative Garden sculpture as representing "the Spirit of Central High:' Dr. Bruce proposed that the Commemorative Garden would 'celebrate the ability of people to overcome adversity and to recognize and honor triumph of the collective good over the betterment of a few:' 

With a design derived from the front facade of Central High School, the sculpture's brick and con­crete arches stand as testa­ment to the courage of the students and the school. The sculpted figures on the arches represent Central's racially diverse student body - the legacy of the Crisis. 

On the interior of the arches, Warrick and Hussey explore the Central High School story through a mirror-like photo collage that documents the school's history and reflects the visitor's image in the photos. Beginning with the construction of Little Rock Senior High School in 1927 at the top of the collage, the photos descend through the decades of segregation into the struggle for integration and the present student population. Images of recent graduates represent the continual foundation that Central High School builds for the future of Arkansas, the nation and the world. 

Located across the street from Central High School National Historic Site, visitors can learn more about the Crisis and all of the photographs on the arches in the Visitor Center. The Commemorative Garden has an accessible ramp on its south and east entrances which leads through the entirety of this contemplative space.

The Commemorative Garden was made possible by: Dolores F. and Thomas A. Bruce Endowment Fund, Arkansas Community Foundation; State of Arkansas, City of Little Rock; Trinity Foundation; Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation; Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau; Frank B. Whitbeck; Entergy; Guardsmark; Southwestern Bell; Maumelle Gardens, Inc.; Bank of America; Riggs Benevolent Fund; Regions Bank and numerous other supporters.