Last week, the Class of 2018 graduated from Little Rock Central High School. Perhaps the most famous graduation ceremony in the long-storied history of Little Rock Central High took place on May 27, 1958. It was on that date that Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from the formerly all-white school.
Among those in the audience to witness this historic event was an up and coming minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation. Because he was going to be nearby, Dr. King wanted to witness the history. Green did not know that Dr. King was in the stands until after the conclusion of the ceremony. Later that evening, Dr. King gave Green a graduation present of $15.
Because of fears about the event becoming a media circus, the Little Rock School District limited the press on the field to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box normally filled with sportswriters covering the gridiron exploits of the champion Tigers. There were photos taken of Green prior to the ceremony as well as during the ceremony.
During the graduation rehearsal, there had been concerns that some students or other people might try to disrupt the practice. But it went off without a hitch. Likewise, the ceremony itself went smoothly. Local press reported that some members of the class briefly chatted with Green during the ceremony. That the event took place without incident was a relief on many levels to City leaders. Also in the class of 1958 were a son of Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann and a daughter of LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.