TL;DR | We came out of convenience, but left thoroughly glad we'd visited some important sites of recent history.
Little Rock, in addition to being an easy stop between OKC and Memphis, was powerful in that we were able to see the Little Rock Central High School where the Little Rock Nine walked. After the landmark Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court case, these nine students were the first to attempt to take advantage of the ruling against separate but equal. When they were blocked from entering by order of the Governor of Arkansas, President Eisenhower called in the National Guard to escort the black students inside while parents encouraged their white sons and daughters to spit and throw things at them, making the entire experience as traumatic as possible. We did learn about these things in history class, but not well. The experience of physically standing where the black students lined up on the stairs was very striking, and uncomfortable in a moving way. We arrived right before school let out for the day, so the buses lined up in front and there was an eerie silence before the mad dash to return home. While the high school still operates as a normal school, the National Park Service has designated it a landmark and built a museum to showcase some of the history behind the case and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to the Central High School, we also visited the Clinton Presidential Library. While it did showcase much from his presidency (minus the famous blue dress), it was somehow a little muted, especially compared with the LBJ Library. We did enjoy the views of the river though, and learned that the reason visitors are not allowed on the 4th floor is because the Clintons have an apartment there where they stay when they are in town.
What we mostly took from Little Rock was that it is a sleepy, well-kept town where it is hard to imagine the chaos of integrating the school system. We felt privileged to be able to visit this important place and have the opportunity to reflect on some of America’s less picturesque history.