Teddy Gaines will be the first to admit that he wasn’t the best student in school. Like many adolescent boys, he chased girls, goofed off in class and didn’t study much as a high school freshman. His family had just moved to Little Rock from Ohio, and he resented it.
“Man, I was so mad, I didn’t care if I flunked out of school,” said Gaines, a 1977 graduate of Little Rock Central High School and a Pine Bluff resident. “Then one day I went to the school’s library and found a book. In it, I read the stories of the Little Rock Nine. I cried, let me tell you. From that day on, I buckled myself down and made all A’s. It really changed my life.”
A sculpture illustrating the progress in the push for educational equality will go on display next month outside Little Rock Central High School to commemorate the 60th anniversary of its historic desegregation. It will represent a time that Gaines and countless others who have walked Central’s halls can only read about but are still moved by. The statue, titled “United,” features two people raising their arms and holding two large rings that don’t quite interlock. Officials say the image demonstrates the work still to be done toward guaranteeing educational rights for students of diverse backgrounds.
Nine students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” were escorted into the formerly all-white school by 101st Airborne Division soldiers on Sept. 25, 1957, after Gov. Orval Faubus had used the National Guard to keep the students out. The school’s desegregation took place three years after a U.S. Supreme Court landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that declared school racial segregation as unconstitutional.
Park Ranger Jodi Morris told The Associated Press that the eight members of the Little Rock Nine who are still alive have been a part of the planning process.
“They’ve been consulted from the very beginning about the commemoration, and we’ve constantly been getting their feedback,” Morris said.
Morris said officials are hopeful the civil rights pioneers will be able to attend the ceremony and other events under the theme of ‘Reflections of Progress.’
Officials also announced a commemoration ceremony, interfaith ceremony and fundraising concert and unveiled a 60th anniversary logo — designed by current students — featuring the school’s facade. Details of the commemoration ceremony haven’t been released. Former President Bill Clinton spoke at the 50th anniversary ceremony. Morris said the school is a reflection of a more diverse Little Rock, but there is still work to be done when it comes to creating a more equal society.
“When you’re talking about things like integration and equality and justice and freedom, or like preserving a historic building, the work is never done,” Morris said.
A scheduled panel discussion featuring the children of the Little Rock Nine and an education forum are aimed at continuing the preservation of Central High’s history. Despite the work that’s left to be done, Central High senior Breyona Butler said the school is doing a good job of keeping its legacy alive making sure it’s is a part of daily student life.
“I know for a fact that every student knows the history we have,” Butler said. “We go to the visitor center across the street, we have civics and we talk about it every day.”
Back in Pine Bluff, Gaines said he can’t wait to see the statue at his alma mater. He beamed when talking about the school he said helped shape his life.
“It was an amazing time, I can tell you that,” Gaines said, recalling his days at Central High. “Everyone who graduated from there has a little bit of the nine in them. They paved the way for all of us, and we owe them so much. We owe them so very much.”
Commercial Managing Editor John Worthen contributed to this report.