Tag Archives: Elizabeth Eckford

Scenes from Elizabeth Eckford bench groundbreaking

On May 17, 2018, Elizabeth Eckford joined with representatives of the National Park Service, Little Rock School District, Bullock Temple CME, and many other organizations to break the ground for a commemorative bench.

This bench is a reproduction of the one on which Ms. Eckford sat so famously on the morning of September 4, 1957.

The bench will be built over the summer and installed in September 2018.

Here are some scenes from the ceremony.

Elizabeth Eckford visits with Central High School Principal Nancy Rousseau.
David Kilton of the National Park Service speaks at the ceremony.
Attendees spilled out of the tent and lined the street for the event.
Ms. Eckford speaks to the crowd.
Ms. Eckford is joined by Central High students in breaking ground.

 

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Groundbreaking today for Elizabeth Eckford commemorative bench project

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is collaborating with the Central High Memory Project students and additional partners for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Elizabeth Eckford Commemorative Bench on May 17, 2018.  It will take place at 4:30 this afternoon at the corner of Park and 16th Streets.

The date for this groundbreaking was chosen to be on the 64th anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision.  It was that decision which paved the way for Little Rock Central High School to be a pivotal location in the Civil Rights struggle.

September 4, 1957, was supposed to be the first day of school for the African American students who were selected to integrate Little Rock Central High School.  Due to the mobs gathered outside of the school and interference from Governor Orval Faubus, the students would not get in the school that day.

The most famous images from that day are the photos of Elizabeth Eckford walking in front of the school, only to be rebuffed by soldiers and tormented by the crowds. Elizabeth’s decision to walk through the mob of protesting segregationists to enter school, only to be turned away became world news. The story of the desegregation of Central High School was thrust into a defining role within the Civil Rights Movement. Elizabeth’s efforts to overcome the fear and uncertainty that she faced that morning resulted in her seeking refuge at a lonely bus stop bench.

In order to highlight this aspect of the story and create more personal connections with this turning point in history for students and visitors, the National Park Service and the Central High Memory Project Student Team will work with community partners in a new public history project.  The Bench Project includes building a replica of the bus stop bench, creating a mobile app for the students’ audio walking tour of eyewitness accounts of that first day of desegregation, and developing a storycorps recording booth for interviews and student podcasts.

The partnership includes: Bullock Temple C.M.E., Central High School and their EAST LAB, the Little Rock School District, the City of Little Rock, Central Arkansas Library System’s Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Good Earth Garden Center, Friends of Central High Museum Inc., Home Depot, Little Rock Club 99 and other Rotary International Clubs,  Pam Brown Courtney and Willis Courtney M. D., the Clinton School of Public Service, Unity in the Community, and others.

The groundbreaking ceremony will be held at the corner of Park and 16th Street starting at 4:30 p.m. The program will include remarks by the NPS Superintendent and the directors of some of the partnering organizations regarding the projects that will be completed in connection with this effort. The Central High Memory Project Student Team will be on hand to meet the public and share details about their work.

Rock the Oscars: Nine from Little Rock

On April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube

Little Rock Look Back: Elizabeth Eckford

After 60 years, the most dramatic images of the 1957 crisis at Little Rock Central High School remain those of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, being taunted as she walked through a hate-filled mob, on her way to school.  Today, Ms. Eckford recalls how difficult it was for her parents, Oscar and Birdie, to allow her to continue the struggle to integrate the Little Rock schools.

Born on October 4, 1941, she grew up in Little Rock.  Because all of the city’s high schools closed her senior year, Ms. Eckford moved to St Louis, where she obtained her GED. She attended Knox College in Illinois, and received her BA in History from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.  While in college, Ms. Eckford became one of the first African Americans to work in a local St. Louis bank, in a non-janitorial position, and later she worked as a substitute teacher, in Little Rock public schools.

Ms. Eckford, a veteran of the U.S. Army, has also worked as a substitute teacher in Little Rock public schools, test administrator, unemployment interviewer, waitress, welfare worker, and military reporter.  Along with her fellow Little Rock Nine members, she is a recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.  Together with one of her former tormenters, Ms. Eckford also received a Humanitarian award, presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), following their meeting 34 years after an apology.  The award recognizes forgiveness and atonement.  They talked to students for two years, and, together, attended a 12-week racial healing course.

Ms. Eckford has started to walk through the painful past in sharing some of her story.  She has said that true reconciliation can occur if we honestly look back on our shared history. She believes that the lessons learned from Little Rock Central High School must continue to be shared with new generations, reminding audiences that “the dead can be buried, but not the past.”  Ms. Eckford continues her interest in education by sharing her story with school groups, and challenges students to be active participants in confronting justice, rather than being passive observers.

Ms. Eckford lives in Little Rock, and is a probation officer for the First Division Circuit Court of Pulaski County.

Little Rock Look Back: US Supreme Court announces Cooper v. Aaron decision

Thurgood Marshall, of the NAACP, sits on the steps of the Supreme Court Building after he filed an appeal in the integration case of Little Rock’s Central High School. The students are, from left: Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, escort Daisy Bates, Marshall, Carlotta Walls, Minnijean Brown, and Elizabeth Eckford. (AP Photo, file)

On September 29, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Cooper v. Aaron. That decision held that Little Rock public officials were required to implement a desegregation plan in compliance with the Brown v. Board decision.

The Court found that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution” and all state officials must adhere to the Court’s decisions and follow the rules laid down in those decisions in similar future cases.

The genesis for the Cooper v. Aaron court case was the Little Rock School Board seeking a delay in further implementation of the plan to integrate schools.

After the events of 1957-1958, the School Board was reluctant to have another year of integration, even if it were severely limited. The school board caved to this political pressure, filing a request for a two-and-a-half-year delay in implementing desegregation. The district court granted the request, but the court of appeals reversed. Chief Justice Earl Warren called a Special Term of the Supreme Court into session to consider the case. The stage was set for Cooper v. Aaron.

In their decision, the Warren Court made it clear that resistance to Brown would not be tolerated. The Court went on to state that “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the Constitution” and “the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land.”

Little Rock Look Back: Sixty Years of the Little Rock Nine

Sixty years ago today the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School and stayed. On one hand, this brought to the end a nearly month long standoff between segregationists and those who wanted to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision.

In the bigger picture, the struggle did not end that day.  Throughout the remainder of the school year, the Little Rock Nine were subjected to threats, isolation and hostility.  Outside of the school, while the crowds may had dispersed after September 25, the raw feelings did not subside.

This was evidenced by the fact that the following year the high schools were closed to avoid having them integrated.

But September 25, 1957, was an historic day in the United States. Under guard of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School. This action by President Dwight Eisenhower was the result of the intrusive efforts of Governor Orval Faubus who had used the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine students out.

The City of Little Rock was largely a bystander in this issue. The form of government was changing from Mayor-Council to City Manager in November 1957. Therefore Mayor Woodrow Mann and the entire City Council were lame ducks. Mann, whose son was a senior at Central, tried to focus on keeping the peace in Little Rock. Most (if not all) of his Council members sided with the Governor.

Congressman Brooks Hays, a Little Rock resident, had tried to broker an agreement between the President and the Governor but was unsuccessful.  Following that, Mayor Mann was in discussions with the White House about the ability of the Little Rock Police Department to maintain order.  Finally, in the interest of public safety, the President federalized the National Guard and removed them. This paved the way for the Army to come in.

Though the school year was not easy, the nine youths who became known worldwide as the Little Rock Nine were finally in school.  They were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee and Mayor Jim Dailey, famously held open the doors of Central High for the Little Rock Nine on the 40th anniversary.  Ten years later, Clinton, Huckabee and Dailey returned joined by Governor Mike Beebe and Mayor Mark Stodola to host the 50th anniversary events.

Today, President Clinton was once again at Central.  This time he was joined by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Mayor Stodola.  Two people who have played parts in organizing all three of these commemorations are City Manager Bruce T. Moore and Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau.  Others, such as Skip Rutherford and Annie Abrams have participated in all three commemorations.

In light of its role in history, the school is a National Historic Site, while still functioning as a high school.

LR Look Back: A Photo Seen Around the World

Will Counts (American, Little Rock, 1931 – 2001, Evansville, Illinois), It was not the plan for Elizabeth Eckford to walk along toward Central High, 1957 (printed 1997), gelatin silver print, 25 x 32 inches, Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection: Gift of the artist, Bloomington, Indiana. 1997.039.007

On September 4, 1957, the students known as the Little Rock Nine made their first attempt to enter all-white Little Rock Central High School.  This was the second day of the 1957-58 school year in Little Rock.  Over the preceding Labor Day weekend, it had been decided that the African American students would wait until the second day of school to officially start at Central.

As is now well known, NAACP leader Daisy Bates was not able to notify one of the students about meeting as a group of the Bates house.  That one student, Elizabeth Eckford, approached the school by herself and quickly realized the National Guard members surrounding the school were not their to protect her, but to ban her and the others.

Arkansas Democrat photographer Will Counts captured Eckford’s quiet determination in the face of the guards and the taunting crowds.  His photo of a white student screaming at Eckford was picked up by media outlets worldwide. It became not only a symbol for the Central High integration crisis, but for the Civil Rights movement.  Counts’ photo was the jury’s choice for the Pulitzer Prize in Photography in 1958. But the jury was overruled by the Pulitzer board, with no explanation given.

A copy of this photo is now on display at the Arkansas Arts Center.  In 1997, Counts gave the Arts Center several prints from his collection that were taken during the time period of August 1957 through September 1959.  The exhibit is on display through October 22.