The U.S. Civil Rights Trail connects 100 sites in 14 states, and one of the most important is Little Rock’s Central High School National Historic Site and Visitor Center.
Built in 1913, the high school was considered one of the most beautiful in the country but is better known for having become a crucial battleground in the struggle for civil rights in 1957, when nine Black high school students were met by angry mobs and the Arkansas National Guard as they tried to integrate the school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the military and desegregation was accomplished, a major stride forward for the civil rights movement.
Stops to make on Arkansas Civil Rights Trail
The school remains in use, and it and the visitor center across the street have long been popular tour stops. During the pandemic, the National Park Service has offered prearranged streetscape tours instead of tours inside the school.
Central High is also on the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, and other trail stops are nearby. At the state capitol grounds downtown, a statue called Testaments captures the determination of The Little Rock Nine. A few blocks away at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, an exhibit devoted to the students includes a video of Clinton presenting each with the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. Another exhibit called Building One America details Clinton’s work to defend affirmative action and pass tougher laws on hate crimes, including making church arson a federal crime.
Black business districts sprouted up in many cities in the late 1800s, including Little Rock’s West Ninth district. The district’s Mosaic Templars Cultural Center explores African American life in Arkansas and spotlights more than 80 Black leaders in its Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
Detour to Tyronza and Helena
Tours traveling to or from Memphis could detour to Tyronza and visit the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum to learn more about a Delta farming practice that impacted many Black farmers. Or they could travel to Helena, a Mississippi River riverfront town and home to King Biscuit Time, the country’s longest-running blues radio show. The radio show has, for years, recorded before live audiences, and its studio is in the Delta Cultural Center, which offers free tours.
To hear about one Black family’s foray into business, stop by the new Delta Dirt Distillery downtown. Harvey and Donna Williams grew up on farms nearby and after successful careers elsewhere, returned and started turning sweet potatoes into vodka. Their growing business donates 1 percent of sales to local education and community efforts.
For a down-home style lunch, try Rosie’s Diner, where the menu is written on a white board in a rainbow of Sharpie colors. Along with mac ‘n cheese, yams and fried fish come surprises like hog mawls and whole caramel cakes. It’s a tiny place so a large group might need to order to go, but by all accounts Rosie’s lives up to its claim to Feed Your Soul.
For more information: