Stories from the Road: Little Rock Central High - Little Rock, AR (March 18, 2018)
This piece was originally published on Millennialpolitics.co in March 2018
The shoes in the case are untied and sitting next to hall passes. The photos on the walls are school pictures and graduation photos. I cannot help but think of the Parkland students as the audio plays overhead. “Those students helped the rest of the world grow up,” an old man’s voice recounts in the National Park Service video that continually loops.
In the month or so since the Parkland shooting, a wide array of politicians, pundits, and general adults have weighed in about whether or not teenagers know enough about gun violence to step in the political fray. Or, rather, if they know enough about life in general to wield such an important platform. Some of the adult voices claim that school is not political and that, in the good old days, children were sent to school to simply learn. The photos on the wall in front of me tell a different story. The story of the Little Rock Nine at the Central High School National Historic site in Little Rock, Arkansas.
When recounting the battle over school desegregation, Brown vs. Board probably is the most well-known historical event, and with good reason. It sets the legal precedent for the coming decade of battles between localities, states, and the federal government. However, those battles always seem to be condensed into a decade or so of civil rights history until the narrator inevitably picks back up with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 or Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream Speech’. But, as you can probably imagine, the decision in Brown did not magically change hearts and minds, even begrudgingly so. The decision caused a new round of challenges and fights about whether or not certain states would actually integrate. As the name suggests, the Little Rock Nine were nine students of color who challenged the all-white population at Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Similar to the photos of Ruby Bridges or James Meredith at the University of Mississippi, the hostility of the time is not a stretch for the imagination.
While school integration was technically fought within the legal system, it was up to these kids to help force action. Without their bravery, the media may have ignored the issues surrounding desegregation and the public may have been ignorant, or at least able to feign ignorance. The simple act of walking into school that brought out the nasty side of the Little Rock community also brought media attention, and, ultimately, the attention of President Eisenhower. Where would we be if these nine kids in Little Rock, and so many others like them across the county, had listened when voices said they were too young or too naive or too inconsequential to make a difference?
Perspective wains so quickly and generations soon forget the unique power and energy that they wielded in youth. But the Little Rock Nine are just one of many examples in history that remind us how influential and intelligent young people truly are. So, as the Parkland students continue to show up and speak out, listen to them. Remind yourself that they truly are the future of this country, and with such thoughtful and passionate leaders to look forward to, the future is looking bright.