Visitors to Little Rock's Central High School will now have a way to explore the school’s historic past. An app developed by the Central High Civil Rights Memory Project in partnership with the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, uses first-person accounts to narrate a walking tour of the school.
George West taught civics at Central High, and now serves as education outreach coordinator at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. He has seen firsthand the impact the project has had on students.
“They have found, in the history, in the first-person accounts, a way to immerse themselves in this story and understand it and learn from it,” West said.
The Memory Project, which chronicles the experiences of those who lived through the civil rights movement, had humble beginnings in civics classes of Central High.
“It started as a one-time class assignment to honor the 50th anniversary, and the stories that students brought back were intriguing and compelling,” West said. “As teachers, we realized we haven’t finished learning from this ourselves, nor have the students who will be coming in future years.”
The app is the latest venture for the Memory Project, and features accounts from the first black students to integrate Central High as well as journalists and eyewitnesses. Along with a website and two books of essays published, West says the app follows a natural evolution of students’ interest in the subject.
“What’s really powerful to me is that all of these are side doors into history that lure students in, because they’re mainly interested in the technology or the art form, but they discover that there are very real stories from the past that speak to our present lives.”
Jessie Bates, a sophomore at Central High, says working with Little Rock Nine member Elizabeth Eckford impacted her the most while working on the project.
“It was interesting talking to her because, you know, you get a new side of things, a new perspective,” Bates said. “And because it’s more personal and it’s her experiences rather than just ‘this is what happens, here are the facts’, it’s like ‘yeah, I was really scared, I woke up, and this is what happened before I came’ which you never see in textbooks.”
Bates says the next step is to incorporate the project into lesson plans, giving Central High students a better insight into their own history.
“I think projects such as these are good because it gives that different perspective,” Bates said. “There’s lots of books that the [Little Rock] Nine have written, if you want to do an excerpt from that instead of giving them a textbook that just says ‘it happened on Sept. 4.”
The app’s unveiling is the first of a series of events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration crisis. Students will also live-tweet a re-enactment of the Little Rock Nine’s first successful entrance into the school on Sept. 25.