Last Friday I accompanied the fourth graders at Pike View on a field trip that included stops at Little Rock Central High School, the Old State House and the Arkansas State Capitol. The trip came on the heels of units for Black History month and a social studies unit on the federal, state and local governments. Honestly, the fourth graders were more prepared than I was. They were all very familiar with the story of the Little Rock Nine, which maybe explains why I was the only one crying at the Central High Museum while the ranger (it’s a national park site!) was telling the story.
Of course, I know who the Little Rock Nine are, but I hadn’t really heard the extended version of the story. Top four things I didn’t know:
- You always see these pictures of this one poor girl all alone being followed by the mob and sitting alone at the bus stop. Elizabeth Eckford faced the mob alone instead of with the other eight students because she did not have a phone, and so she wasn’t notified at 2am the night before that because of the growing fear of violence they would meet and walk together to school. The school board had asked that the parents not accompany the students so that the students would be easier to protect, but there was no protection for Elizabeth when she stepped off the city bus and was the first of the nine to arrive. Alone.
- The abuse of the Little Rock Nine continued all year long. Every day. Physical. Psychological. Even though the mobs dispersed eventually after the arrival of army troops, the presence of hate remained for a long time.
- Only one of the nine was a senior, and when he graduated the following spring, Martin Luther King Jr. was in attendance. Still, the audience held their applause as Ernest Green walked to receive his diploma after having clapped for everyone else.
- Governor Faubus closed all the Little Rock high schools for the following school year as an attempt to stop integration. He passed an “emergency” law stating that the governor could close a school that was being forced to integrate. Closed. No school at all.
I have always thought about the events of September in 1957 as being an event. A single moment in history. So I have been so flabbergasted to discover that the journeys of these brave nine were so long and hard. Flabbergasted and very, very sad. I am anxious to go back to this museum and take the boys. So they can walk up the steps to the school and I can ask them, like Mary Polly’s teacher asked her class, to imagine what it would have been like to be one of those students.
So they can sit on one of the nine benches out front that bear the names of these brave souls.
And so they can see this amazing painting in person that was done by George Hunt for the 40th anniversary of the event.
After our time at Central, we were off to the Old State House, a building I have not been in since I was in grade school myself. We had a wonderful tour guide and even saw a re-enactment of the speech that was given by Isaac Murphy in 1861, as he cast the only vote in the Arkansas Secession Convention against the succession of Arkansas from the Union.
We also learned that this first capitol building of Arkansas was built mostly by slaves, many of whom died from malaria during construction.
Next we were off to the present Capitol, which is all in bloom.
We enjoyed our tour guide there as well. She was very impressed with how much the fourth graders knew about government. Yay Pike View teachers!
But I most appreciated seeing the Memorial for the Little Rock Nine outside. Walking among these statues seemed a very fitting way to end our day that had begun with their journey.