When Little Rock commemorates the 50th anniversary of Central High School’s desegregation, Annie Abrams hopes the city can create quite a contrast between now and 1957.
“This will not be a crisis,” said Abrams, a retired schoolteacher who was the first black president of Central’s PTA. “This will be our crown of all our efforts.”
Anniversary organizers held a news conference outside Central on Monday to promote events related to September’s observance of the school’s integration. Over 30 commemorative activities have been scheduled, according to Mayor Mark Stodola.
The highlight will be a ceremony on the school’s front lawn Sept. 25 50 years to the day after nine black students were escorted into the school by members of the 101st Airborne in a showdown between Gov. Orval Faubus and President Eisenhower.
The school’s integration was the first test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 1954 finding segregated schools unconstitutional.
“Little Rock, Arkansas particularly Central High School will be the place to be,” said Virgil Miller, co-chairman of the anniversary’s organizing committee.
Organizers have scheduled several events in the days before the anniversary, including a town hall meeting on race and education Sept. 20, judicial forums Sept. 20-21 and an ecumenical service Sept. 23.
Various exhibits, plays and speeches are spread out over several weeks. Andrew Young, a former mayor of Atlanta who once worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., will be featured as part of the Bless the Mic Lecture Series on Sept. 18. Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. will speak at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service on Sept. 24.
Anniversary-related events continue into October. Bethel A.M.E. Church and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral are sponsoring a forum on race relations and the faith community set for Oct. 4.
Abrams is working on a project involving a time capsule to be closed this year and not opened until 2057.
Organizers plan seating for around 5,000 at the Sept. 25 ceremony, which will feature former President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native.
A Web site http://www.arkansasglobecoming.com is set up for people to make ticket requests. Admission is free, but the deadline for ticket requests is Aug. 10.
The site also details some of the events surrounding the anniversary in the hope that plenty of visitors will come.
“The 50th anniversary is an historic event that Arkansas can ill afford not to take advantage of,” said Richard Davies of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
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