LITTLE ROCK — Bipartisan federal legislation introduced Tuesday would expand the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site to include seven homes across the street from the school.
U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act in the Senate. U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and John Lewis, D-Ga., introduced a matching House bill.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration by nine black students. During the desegregation crisis, Gov. Orval Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to block the students’ access to the school, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by placing the Guard under federal control and dispatching Army troops to restore order.
The seven homes that would be affected by the legislation, located in the 1400 and 1500 blocks of Park Street, are seen in the backgrounds of many historic photos taken during the crisis. The homes also were used by the Little Rock Nine as places to gather before walking to school each day.
“To be able to see exactly how it looked when the Little Rock Nine walked their way into Central High — and into history — will do a lot of good for our country,” Cotton said in a statement Tuesday.
“It will help keep this park as a living monument to the courage of the civil-rights movement. It will allow future generations to come here and begin to understand what it took to achieve equal opportunity. And it will remind all of us that we must continually stand guard against hatred and intolerance,” he said.
Hill said in a statement, “Little Rock Central High School was ground zero for the Civil Rights Movement in the state of Arkansas. Expanding the boundary of the National Historic Site at Central High ensures that the entire story of the Little Rock Nine and their brave role in the fight for equality of all children will be preserved for generations to come.”
Lewis, who was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, said, “It takes a lot of planning, organizing, and support for young teenagers to consistently and persistently challenge the way of life of a city, a region and a country. These buildings are a part of the legacy of the Little Rock Nine, and they should also be preserved.”
Leahy commended Cotton for bringing lawmakers together for the proposal and said, “This is an opportunity for the Congress to continue to support the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and recommit ourselves to providing the necessary federal resources to maintain and operate our national park sites across the nation.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior recommended in 2001 and again in 2004 that the homes be included within the historic site’s boundaries, but the boundaries were never changed.
The legislation would not change ownership of the homes but would encourage their owners and the National Park Service to work together to preserve the homes’ exteriors.
The legislation’s sponsors released letters of support for the proposal from Preserve Arkansas, Central High Neighborhood Inc. and two of the homeowners, Patricia McGraw and Grace Blagdon.
Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt said that although McGraw and Blagdon were the only homeowners to write a letter of support, all are supportive. The Central High Neighborhood Inc. endorsed the proposal after taking a vote of homeowners in the vicinity, she said.