Place

Elizabeth Eckford Bus Bench

The Elizabeth Eckford Bus Bench, an outdoor contemplative exhibit by Central High School
The Elizabeth Eckford Bus Bench, an outdoor contemplative exhibit by Central High School

NPS Photo

Quick Facts

Accessible Sites, Benches/Seating, Bus/Shuttle Stop, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Scenic View/Photo Spot, Tactile Exhibit, Wheelchair Accessible

On Wednesday, September 4, 1957, ten African American students attempted to enter Central High for the first time. The previous evening, the principals of Dunbar and Horace Mann had informed these students that they would be going to Central the next day. Daisy Bates, President of the Arkansas Conference of Branches for the NAACP, had called the families of the students to inform them of the logistics for that Wednesday morning: do not come to Central High alone, but meet near the school around 8:30 a.m. where a group of local African American and white ministers would escort the students to the high school.

Elizabeth Eckford did not receive notice about this plan of action - the Eckfords do not have a telephone. Mrs. Bates intended to try to reach the Eckfords on Wednesday morning, but forgot in the hurried pace of the morning. Elizabeth rode a bus to Central, approached the school just before 8:00 a.m. and saw the soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard surrounding the school. Barred by the soldiers in several failed attempts to be allowed past their ranks, Elizabeth found herself in the throes of an angry mob of protesters numbering over 300+ on Park Street. Chants ["Two, four, six, eight! We don't want to integrate!"], racial epithets, terroristic threats and spit descended down on this fifteen-year old student as she attempted to make her way to the end of Park Street where perceived safety awaited her at another bus stop and bench. After arriving at the bus stop, Elizabeth waited for 35 minutes; in the interim, she is denied entrance to Ponder's Drug and supported by Benjamin Fine and Grace Lorch.

"The mob of twisted whites, galvanized into vengeful action by the inaction of the heroic state militia, was not willing that the young school girl should get off so easily. Elizabeth Eckford had walked into the wolf's lair, and now that they felt she was fair game, the drooling wolves took off after their prey. The hate mongers, who look exactly like other, normal white men and women, took off down the street after the girl." - Buddy Lonesome, St. Louis Argus

"Here she is this little girl, this tender little thing, walking with this whole mob baying at her like a pack of wolves seeking to destroy a little lamb." - Benjamin Fine, New York Times

Unveiled in 2018, a replica of the bench stands in the place where Elizabeth's first attempt at integration ended on that September day. The bench and surrounding plaques are the result of a student-led project by the Central High School Memory Project in collaboration with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, the National Park Service and other partners. The Memory Project, a group inspired by the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, immerses students in the oral history of civil rights and human rights through hands-on, inter-generational learning and requires students to analyze causes/effects of historical events as well as the resulting impact on both individuals in their families and institutions in our communities.

The bench is a place for reflection, a space to remember the nonviolence demonstrated by a fifteen-year-old in the face of surrounding violence. We recommend using this audio walking tour, a supplemental digital companion researched, scripted, and recorded by the Central High Memory Project which follows the footsteps and narrates eyewitness accounts of the unsuccessful first attempt by all ten African American students (September 4, 1957) to attend classes during the historic desegregation crisis. Note - this content is available as a free app on Google Play and for some iOS devices.