Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Park established: November 6, 1998
President in office: Bill Clinton
Park size: 28 Acres
Visitors: 92,108 in 2022
Fun fact: It is the only National Park Sight unit with a functioning high school as its focal point
I spent much more time at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site than I expected. The park has a visitor center with a museum, Magnolia Mobil gas station, a commemorative garden, the high school, and Elizabeth Eckford Bus Bench.
I figured I’d breeze through, but the stories are fascinating and had me reading every word. I first stopped at the Visitor Center to speak with rangers. They shared great information and some stories. The visitor center has a great exhibit space containing the history of desegregation, the story of Little Rock Central High School, and the impact the desegregation movement has had on other civil rights movements.
The window along the back wall of the exhibit looks out onto Central High School and Magnolia Mobil gas station. They have an exhibit that allows you to hear stories from the Little Rock Nine. It was really incredible to listen while looking out onto the same places where they walked. It brought it all to life.
After soaking up as much as I could at the Visitor Center, I walked the exhibits. I walked over to the school and paused a moment to take in the beauty of the building, the quiet of a chilly spring day, replaying the stories I had read and heard. About a half block away was the bus bench that Elizabeth Eckford sat on while crowds were heckling her. Finally, a stroll through the commemorative garden.
Moments after I finished, school let out. Suddenly the front lawn and sidewalks were bustling with students. Something about that moment, watching the diverse group of youth laughing and playing with the freedom that the final bell brings. Their school plays such an important role in the freedom of people all over the world.
The bravery of the Little Rock Nine is something to respect and cherish. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls started the push for desegregation in our country. The park tells the story and celebrates its history.
It’s an easy park to visit. You don’t need to commit an entire day to the park. You can make it a pit stop on a road trip, or add it to a list of a lot of other parks within the region.
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Parking: The Visitor Center has a large parking lot. If that’s full, you can also park on the street throughout the neighborhood.
Bathrooms: Available in the Visitor Center
What to wear: This is a park that requires walking around a city block. Check the weather and dress accordingly, and perhaps make sure your shoes are comfy.
What to pack: I always say water, but since this is a city block, you can probably grab water at the visitors center if you need it.
Pet regulations: Pets are permitted on the grounds – including the commemorative garden, parking lot, and bus bench – but must be on a leash. The park has provided trash receptacles throughout the area, so please clean up after your pet. Pets aren’t permitted in any NHS buildings. Service animals are welcome in all NHS buildings that are open to the public.