UA Little Rock center creates virtual exhibit commemorating 60th anniversary of desegregation of Central High School

A sign in front of Little Rock Central High School declares the closing of the city’s four public high schools, thus beginning the Lost Year of 1958-1959. Photo courtesy of the Center of Arkansas History and Culture.

The Center for Arkansas History and Culture at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has created a virtual exhibit to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School and the legacy surrounding the historic events. 

“This is a very rich collection of material that is visually appealing and easy to navigate,” said Dr. Deborah Baldwin, director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. “The interactive timeline presents events with photos of locations and participants, and the oral histories have been digitized so that one can see and listen to the speaker. The web exhibit designer has done a wonderful job of meshing this historic event with its still current issues.”

On Sept. 2, 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called the National Guard to prevent nine African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, from integrating Central High School.

The students were eventually allowed to enter school on Sept. 25, after President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard, removed them from Central High School, and replaced them with the 101st Airborne who escorted the students to school. Integration was later delayed by the closure of all public high schools in Little Rock during the 1958-59 school year, also known as the Lost Year.

The virtual exhibit provides viewers a broad range of perspectives on the desegregation crisis through commentary by witnesses, scholars, and journalists. The website features a media gallery with digitized archival photos, editorial cartoons, documents, and television news coverage of the crisis as well as oral interviews with members of the Little Rock Nine.

The exhibit also includes a look at the FBI’s investigation into the Central High School Crisis and disturbing rumors of Arkansans preparing for violence and a review of how other countries reported on the events at Central High School during the Cold War

For educators, the exhibit includes educational materials with lesson plans covering the Little Rock Nine, Civil Rights activist Daisy Bates, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Lost Year. 

Members of the 101st Airborne escort the Little Rock Nine in and out of the school to ensure the students’ safety during the 1957 integration of Central High School. Photo courtesy of the Center of Arkansas History and Culture.
Members of the 101st Airborne escort the Little Rock Nine in and out of Central High School to ensure the students’ safety during the 1957 integration of Central High School. Photo courtesy of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

John Kirk, director of the UA Little Rock Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, said the impact of the events of 1957 is still culturally significant today, six decades later.

“The 1957 Little Rock school crisis remains an internationally renowned landmark in the ongoing struggle to secure equal access to education for all students,” Kirk said.

Chad Garrett, director of technology and digital initiative, and Jared Craig, website coordinator, created the virtual exhibit. This exhibit grew from the UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture’s participation in the Central High Integration 60th Anniversary Committee.  

The virtual exhibit is one of many events honoring the 60th anniversary of the integration of Central High School. More information can be found at the Reflections of Progress website.

In the upper right photo, a sign in front of Little Rock Central High School declares the closing of the city’s four public high schools, thus beginning the Lost Year of 1958-1959. Photo courtesy of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. 

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