Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail joins new U.S. Civil Rights Trail

U.S. Civil Rights Trail logo

The Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, a project of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, has been named a part of the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail

“I think it is great that we were ahead of the curve by about seven years and that the rest of the country has finally caught up with us,” said Dr. John Kirk, director of the Anderson Institute. “We are delighted that the people on the trail will be recognized nationally.”

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a collection of churches, courthouses, schools, museums, and other landmarks, primarily in the Southern states, where activists challenged segregation in the 1950s and 1960s to advance social justice.

After former National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis encouraged historians to identify surviving landmarks where major events of the civil rights era occurred, Georgia State University found 60 sites. Southern state tourism directors added more than 40 secondary sites. The trail, which includes more than 100 attractions across 14 states, debuted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was also the 155th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Places where activists successfully sought equal access to public education, public transportation and voting rights comprise many of the locations grouped under the theme “What happened here changed the world.” 

Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Photo by Lonnie Timmons/UA Little Rock Communications.
Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Photo by Lonnie Timmons/UA Little Rock Communications.

Established in the summer of 2011, the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail honors those who made significant contributions to civil rights in Arkansas. The trail raises public awareness of the long and rich legacy of Arkansas’s civil rights history.

“The purpose of the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail is to remind people of the long and wide history of civil rights in Arkansas, and that it is more than just about the 1957 desegregation of Central High School,” Kirk said. “We wanted to bring attention to the events and people who encouraged civil rights before, during and after the events at Central High.”

The trail begins in front of the Old State House Convention Center on Markham Street and will eventually extend to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. Each honoree’s name is commemorated with a 12-inch bronze marker on the trail and a biography on the trail’s website.

New markers are added to the trail each year in a public ceremony that also recognizes civil rights activities of the past and those who work for racial equality today. The ceremonies have honored sit-ins and freedom rides, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, the desegregation of downtown Little Rock, and the efforts of professionals in the areas of medicine and healthcare, politics and law, and economic advancement.

The 2018 theme honored Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, who in 1967 became Arkansas’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction. While in office, Rockefeller appointed a number of African Americans to state commissions and departments for the first time.

“We will keep going until we run out of space,” Kirk said. “There are still plenty of little known events, organizations  and people whose names need to be known and whose stories need to be told.”

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