The foundation that oversees the house where the Little Rock Nine coordinated efforts to integrate Central High School in the 1950s is launching a fundraising campaign. For $100 each, people can have their names and messages placed on 4x8 inch bricks that will make up a sidewalk leading to the home.
It will enable further renovations of the modest home at 1207 West 28th Street where L.C. and Daisy Bates lived during the time Mrs. Bates led efforts to allow the nine African-Americans to attend the formerly all-white school.
The nation’s attention focused on Little Rock during the crisis, as then-Gov. Orval Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the integration and President Dwight Eisenhower responded by sending Army troops to enforce a court order.
Dale Charles, treasurer of the museum foundation board, said people travel from around the world to see the school, learn more at the National Park Service visitors center, then the home.
"When they come in, once we get this commemorative sidewalk laid, they will see all these names and it will add to the history that’s already in this house," Charles said.
During the extended periods when the students were unable to attend classes at Central, they would meet at the home to be tutored in their studies in the basement during the day and “strategize how to keep going at night. It was a terrible time in our history.”
Tours of the 1950s-era home, which has been furnished as it looked at the time of the crisis, can be scheduled, but at this point there are no regular hours. Charles hopes to eventually hire an executive director for the foundation and set regular hours that people can visit.
One part of the home that is not available for tours is the basement, because of its current condition. Charles says money raised would include work to make repairs in that area because of its significance as the place where the students were typically tutored.
The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
Helping to lead the current effort is Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson.
"I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to be co-chair of the L.C. and Daisy Bates Foundation brick initiative to raise funds to make sure that the… house continues on into the future to remind us what happened here, how far we’ve come and what we can be doing today and in the future to make sure that we have a real sense of community," Hutchinson said.
She noted the harassment the couple endured, having a rock once shatter a picture window in the living room with a note that warned a bomb would be thrown next time. There was also a cross-burning in the front yard.
While she was only seven when the crisis played out, Hutchinson says she was struck by the details she learned later in life, especially about Mrs. Bates’ leadership role, rather than L.C. Bates.
"Sometimes things were so tough and the sides were so against each other that if the men stepped forward, they would be killed or they would lose their business. But if their wives stepped forward, not so much," Hutchinson said. "So the men would kind of stay in the background and encourage their wives to step forward and do these things."
The home is also noteworthy as a place where future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall often slept while helping the family by providing legal services. Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King also stayed overnight once, Charles said.
The foundation is planning to launch a website for people to learn more about visiting the house and buying a brick to help in the fundraising effort.
For now, tours can be booked by calling Mary Hardin at 501-372-1927.