LITTLE ROCK - The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site tells a story that is not over yet, two of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet secretaries said Tuesday during a visit to the site.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx visited the site Tuesday as part of a series of visits to national parks that federal officials are making this month to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.
“We’ve come a long way, but of course, there’s much in the news that tells us we have a long way to go,” Jewell told reporters in front of Central High School, where classes were in session. “This is a very powerful place for telling an important story that continues to unfold.”
Before visiting the school, Jewell and Foxx took part in a round-table discussion at the site’s visitor center with school and community leaders. Among the participants in the discussion, which was not open to the press, were Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed of the Little Rock Nine, the nine black students who integrated Central High in 1957.
“The things that we heard about from both Thelma and Elizabeth about their early days of trying to enter this school really highlight both the presence of this school as a battlefield but also the presence of this school as a symbol of national triumph in so many ways,” Foxx told reporters.
“The stories that the National Park Service tells and the way that it’s able to archive and help it be more accessible to Americans young and old from all walks of life is so critical, because if we don’t remember our history we’re doomed to repeat it, and so much of what I’ve heard today is so relevant to so many discussions happening in our country right now,” he said.
Foxx, who is black, said he might not be secretary of transportation today if not for the actions of the Little Rock Nine.
Jewell and Foxx said the round-table discussion, which included Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, also dealt with transportation and infrastructure issues facing the historic site and the city in general.
Foxx said many highways, including Interstate 630, which bisects Little Rock, were planned in the same spirit of division that was behind segregation.
“We’ve got to acknowledge it. We’ve got to own it, and we’ve got to think about how we build differently in the future,” he said. “What we’re really doing every day is building a fabric, and the question is, is that fabric going to be connected, or is it going to be one that creates further divisions between our people? We have so much work to do to build better than we did back then.”
Jewell said she is optimistic about ideas she heard for creating transportation connections between the historic site, the Clinton Presidential Library and the city of Hot Springs, where Bill Clinton grew up.