Six members of the famed `Little Rock Nine’ will be headliners of a free public program taking place on Tuesday, September 26 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in the nation’s capital.
“Reflections of the Little Rock Nine 1957–2017” is aimed at honoring the courage and sacrifices of the nine Black youth (six girls and three boys) who collectively integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas on Sept. 25, 1957. The move followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s `Brown v. Board of Education’ decision in 1954 that banned school segregation.
The `Nine’ -- Melba Pattillo, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls, Thelma Mothershed, Terrence Roberts, and the late Jefferson Thomas – were hailed for changing the course of history and advancing racial equality.
Jackie Trescott, a former reporter with the Washington Post, has been tapped to moderate a discussion in the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater with six members of the group. They’re expected to share the circumstances and decisions behind their experience, the lasting impact it's had on them and their families, and what they’ve done in the decades since in their respective careers and lives.
September 25th marked the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine's first day of class. A few weeks prior to their historic act, then-Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called in the state National Guard to stand by as an angry mob of segregationists blocked the nine students from entering the all-White school.
"They moved closer and closer. …Somebody started yelling. …I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd -- someone who could maybe help,” recalled Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine. “I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed like a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.”
The discussion is the culminating event of the museum’s first anniversary celebration, marking its opening on September 24, 2016.
A year ago this month, the three-tiered bronze colored structure—which spans some 400,000 square feet— opened its' doors not far from the Washington Monument on the National Mall.
It’s billed as the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African-American story and its' impact on American and world history.
In its' inaugural year, the museum has welcomed nearly 3 million people, who have visited the 12 inaugural exhibitions, which included 3,000 artifacts. Exhibitons include: slave shackles, Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a segregated Southern Railway used in the Jim Crow-era South, Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac and more.
Along the way, the museum has increased the number of items in its' permanent collection to nearly 40,000 and has hosted some four dozen public programs designed to help visitors understand the historic and contemporary issues about race and culture today.
“We are so grateful to America for making this first year unprecedentedly successful,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the museum. “This first anniversary gives us at the Smithsonian the opportunity to thank everyone for this incredible gift and for making it possible to continue our mission to help America grapple with history by seeing their past through an African American lens – and ultimately help Americans find healing and reconciliation.”
This past weekend, the museum held two Community Day celebrations on the museum’s outside grounds, with free activities that included musical performances, dance, garden tours and storytelling. Members of the public were encouraged to join the #VisitorVoices social media campaign, which highlights stories from Reflection Booths inside the museum that enable visitors to share their impressions of the exhibitions via video testimonials.
Although Tuesday's program is free and open to the public, advanced registration is encouraged via the website HERE.