Little Rock Central High School is now joining five other sites across the city as part of a national project highlighting historically significant locations in the civil rights era.
The U.S. Civil Rights Trail includes over 100 museums, churches, and other landmarks across 14 states and Washington, D.C. that played a role in the struggle for equal rights for African-Americans in the 1950s and 60s.
The result of a collaboration between twelve state tourism agencies, the trail was unveiled at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. State Director of Tourism and former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey said the trail will serve as both a learning experience and a destination for visitors.
"It's something that, from a tourist director's standpoint, gives you that kind of collective umbrella of interest that can draw people from all over the world, and from right here in [our] own United States," Dailey said. "We will be more and more able to capitalize on educating ourselves, educating our children, and educating visitors who come here intrigued by the civil rights struggles that we've had, in many cases wanting to find out more."
Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau President Gretchen Hall agreed with Dailey that the city's place in civil rights history is worth emphasizing.
"The trail's theme is 'What happened here changed the world,' and indeed it did. These sites highlight and showcase the stories, struggles, and triumphs that have shaped humanity," Hall said.
Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton was one of the second group of five black students to attend Little Rock Central High School in 1959, following the "Lost Year" when Gov. Orval Faubus closed all public high schools in the city to avoid desegregation. An interview with her is featured on the trail's website, and she spoke briefly at its unveiling.
"As a small child, I had always been told that from slavery, my people had hope to be able to realize the full promises of American democracy," Hampton said. "Those things are always uppermost in my mind, is it possible to have access to all of the institutions that support you as being the best human being you can be?"
Hampton said for her generation, the key to educating young people about their experiences with racial inequality is to avoid a sense of hopelessness, while at the same time giving an honest account of what life was like under Jim Crow.
"I think that lots of people my age, as I talk to them, are striking the balance in their hearts and heads and are being very careful to make sure that the way in which they reflect what's going on does not dampen the spirits of young people," Hampton said. "I think that that really is the charge for those of us who are seniors and who lived through and participated in the struggle, is that we have to work very hard to be realistic about what we’re confronting. But also to not, in any way, shape, or form, create a situation where our young people lose hope because they believe there's nothing to be gained and all is lost."
Hampton still is hopeful for the future, and said the legacy of other pioneers of civil rights continues to live on, even in times of uncertainty.
"As I've heard Bill Clinton say, we're halfway home with a long way to go. I don't feel discouraged, because I think that in my lifetime I am a witness to how much good has been done, how much change has taken place," Hampton said. "But I also am not unaware that we are in a time of trouble and that there are people who honestly believe that we have lost our way and that people who look like me, or people who are immigrants, have no hope in America. I don't believe that."
Dailey echoes this sentiment, saying historic locations from the civil rights movement serve as an enduring reminder of the progress society has made.
"In one sense, we've come a long way. But the reality is, the journey is still a long road ahead. And we have plenty of opportunity to bring people together around the atrocities that we have dealt with in the past, and hopefully to never allow them to happen again," Dailey said.
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Clinton Presidential Center, Arkansas Civil Rights Trail, Little Rock Nine Memorial and the home of local NAACP organizer Daisy Bates are the other Little Rock sites included in the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
You can find a full listing of locations included in the trail here.