Photo by Nelson Chenault
Courtesy of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service
Elizabeth Eckford during a presentation for the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service Speaker Series on January 29, 2020. 

At the 2020 NFPW Conference in Little Rock June 18-20 you will hear a firsthand account of a pivotal moment in American history from one of nine African-American students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1957.

Elizabeth Eckford’s arrival at Central High School on Sept. 4, 1957, is immortalized in an iconic photo of a stoic black girl walking down Park Street in front of Central High toward a bus stop, being followed by an angry white mob yelling threats and slurs. Will Counts, a photographer for the Arkansas Democrat, captured the image, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1958.

The photo and other news coverage drew national attention and helped convince President Dwight Eisenhower to send the 101st Airborne Division and federalize the Arkansas National Guard to protect the students and enforce the law. Eckford and the eight other students started classes at Central High School on Sept. 25, 1957. They continued to endure verbal and physical abuse from other students during the 1957-58 school year, even though troops remained at Central High to protect them.

Eckford speaks often about her history-making experiences, racism, bullying and reconciliation. In 2018, she released a book for young readers titled “The Worst First Day: Bullied while Desegregating Central High.”
Eckford is scheduled to speak on Saturday, June 20, after the luncheon honoring High School Communication Award winners. Students are encouraged to attend. Her presentation is sponsored by Arkansas Business, a weekly business journal launched in 1984.

Learn more about Elizabeth Eckford at the HistoryMakers website and the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

To learn more about the integration of Central High School, reserve your spot for the Little Rock pre-conference tour on Wednesday, June 17. Little Rock Central, the only operating high school in the country to be designated a National Historic site, is among the sites to be visited. Others include the Clinton Library and MuseumHeifer International (for lunch), and the Esse Purse Museum.

Another pre-conference tour is planned on Thursday morning, June 18, and will focus on sites in North Little Rock. Please save time in your schedule to participate in these tours. Watch for more details and registration information on the pre-tours and the post-tour to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas in the next few weeks.