Women Making History – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.

Little Rock Look Back: A Bowl of Chili’s Role in Civil Rights

Minnijean Brown Trickey and Dent Gitchel at the 2006 chili cook-off (Richelle Antipolo/Flickr)

On December 17, 1957, perhaps the most famous chili bowl was dropped in the Central High cafeteria.

It was, of course, not just any chili bowl.  It was dropped by Minnijean Brown as she was being harassed by white students who were trying to make it difficult for her to navigate the cafeteria.

Balancing food on a cafeteria tray and maneuvering around narrow paths around chairs and tables can be difficult in the best of circumstances. But doing it when you are being harassed for the umpteenth time that day makes it even more of a challenge.

Reports differ as to whether she dropped the tray or let it slip. In the pandemonium of the moment, it may be six of one, half-dozen the other.  But what is not disputable is that the chili fell on a junior who was sitting at a table and not taking part in the harassment. That junior was future attorney and UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor Dent Gitchel.

While no one had stepped in to stop the pestering, after Minnijean had dropped the chili on Dent, officials swooped in and sent both students to the principal’s office.  Dent was sent home to change clothes.  Minnijean was suspended for six days.  This incident and suspension would be fodder for her foes who pressed for her eventual expulsion in February 1958.  (The student other student involved in that incident – a white female – was only suspended and later returned for the remainder of the school year.)

Minnijean and Dent went their separate ways.  While many knew about the chili episode, the name of the student who was on the receiving end had become forgotten.  It was not until many years later that his name was once again attached to it.  In 2005, he was named in an article in an historical journal.  By that time, he was a retired law school professor.  Later that year, he gave a brief interview to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about it.

In March 2006, the Central High Museum Inc. board organized a chili cook-off as a fundraiser.  Minnijean and Dent reunited for the first time since December 1957 to serve as co-chairs and judges of the cook-off.  The other judge was Central High principal Nancy Rousseau.  There were nine chilies made by Little Rock area celebrities:  Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Bene Vita, “Broadway” Joe Booker of Citadel Communications, Dave Williams of Dave’s Place, Max Brantley of Arkansas Times, Michael Selig of Vermillion Water Grille, Pamela Smith of KATV, Channel 7, Sanford Tollette of the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Scott McGehee of Boulevard Bread Co. and state Sen. Tracy Steele.

Eleven years ago – on the fiftieth anniversary of the incident — NPR did a story and interviewed by Minnijean and Dent.  In various interviews, Minnijean has commented that she told officials that day she knew that Dent was an innocent bystander.  In the few public statements he has made, Dent has commented that while he did not cause problems for the Nine, he also was not one of the very, very few white students who befriended them.  Today, they both focus their comments on the continued need for reconciliation as well as facing up to the issues in order to move forward.

So have a bowl of chili today. And think about how far we have come.  And how very far we still have to go.

Sculpture Vulture: Clay Enoch’s UNITED installed on Sept 22, 2017

Clay Enoch’s sculpture UNITED was dedicated to kick off the public events for the commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Central High School integration by the Little Rock Nine.

The piece, which depicts two figures working together to close two circles, is located in front of Little Rock Central High School.

Enoch was joined at the dedication by several members of the Little Rock Nine, City of Little Rock officials, and current Central High School personnel.

City Director Dean Kumpuris and Little Rock Nine member Ernest Green (who was celebrating a birthday that day) made remarks about the importance of the message of United.  Enoch discussed his process in creating the sculpture.

Principal Nancy Rousseau accepted the sculpture on behalf of the school.  Then Mr. Enoch, Mr. Green, and current Central High students unveiled the sculpture.

The sculpture was installed by Little Rock Parks and Recreation staff.  The Central High School PTSA has landscaped the area around the sculpture and maintains it.

Enoch was chosen through a national public monument commission process sponsored by Sculpture at the River Market.

LR Women Making History – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.

Little Rock Look Back: The Central High Chili Incident

Minnijean Brown Trickey & Dent Gitchel at 2006 chili cook-off (Richelle Antipolo/ Flickr)

On December 17, 1957, a chili bowl was dropped in the Central High cafeteria.

It was, of course, not just any chili bowl.  It was dropped by Minnijean Brown as she was being harassed by white students who were trying to make it difficult for her to navigate the cafeteria.

Balancing food on a cafeteria tray and maneuvering around narrow paths around chairs and tables can be difficult in the best of circumstances. But doing it when you are being harassed for the umpteenth time that day makes it even more of a challenge.

Reports differ as to whether she dropped the tray or let it slip. In the pandemonium of the moment, it may be six of one, half-dozen the other.  But what is not disputable is that the chili fell on a junior who was sitting at a table and not taking part in the harassment. That junior was future attorney and UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor Dent Gitchel.

While no one had stepped in to stop the pestering, after Minnijean had dropped the chili on Dent, officials swooped in and sent both students to the principal’s office.  Dent was sent home to change clothes.  Minnijean was suspended for six days.  This incident and suspension would be fodder for her foes who pressed for her eventual expulsion in February 1958.  (The student other student involved in that incident – a white female – was only suspended and later returned for the remainder of the school year.)

Minnijean and Dent went their separate ways.  While many knew about the chili episode, the name of the student who was on the receiving end had become forgotten.  It was not until many years later that his name was once again attached to it.  In 2005, he was named in an article in an historical journal.  By that time, he was a retired law school professor.  Later that year, he gave a brief interview to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about it.

In March 2006, the Central High Museum Inc. board organized a chili cook-off as a fundraiser.  Minnijean and Dent reunited for the first time since December 1957 to serve as co-chairs and judges of the cook-off.  The other judge was Central High principal Nancy Rousseau.  There were nine chilies made by Little Rock area celebrities:  Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Bene Vita, “Broadway” Joe Booker of Citadel Communications, Dave Williams of Dave’s Place, Max Brantley of Arkansas Times, Michael Selig of Vermillion Water Grille, Pamela Smith of KATV, Channel 7, Sanford Tollette of the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Scott McGehee of Boulevard Bread Co. and state Sen. Tracy Steele.

Ten years ago – on the fiftieth anniversary of the incident — NPR did a story and interviewed by Minnijean and Dent.  In various interviews, Minnijean has commented that she told officials that day she knew that Dent was an innocent bystander.  In the few public statements he has made, Dent has commented that while he did not cause problems for the Nine, he also was not one of the very,very few white students who befriended them.  Today, they both focus their comments on the continued need for reconciliation as well as facing up to the issues in order to move forward.

So have a bowl of chili today. And think about how far we have come.  And how very far we still have to go.

Central to Creativity – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.