Today is the centennial of the National Park Service. It's no secret that I love National Parks. They humble me and fulfill a need for wilderness that nothing else touches. As much as I love Parks for their incredible views, I often forget that the NPS serves to protect cultural heritage sites as well. On Wednesday I was honored to visit Central Little Rock High School National Historic Site and visit with Thelma Mothershed-Wair, one of the Little Rock Nine.
Despite the ruling of Brown vs. The Board of Education in 1954, the governor of Arkansas prevented 9 African American students from attending Central Little Rock High School in 1957. Central was a public school with an excellent academic record that would afford these excellent students access to athletic programs, extra curricular activities, and college level classes. The school board had unanimously approved a plan to desegregate schools two years prior, yet in 1957 it took over 1,000 soldiers of the 101 Airborne division sent by President Eisenhower to allow these 9 students access to their constitutional right for a quality education. These teenagers could have taken the easy way out and gone back to their previous high schools at any time, yet they stayed.
I have been been sprayed by Old Faithful in Yellowstone, surveyed the Rio Grand in Big Bend, snorkeled with barracudas in the Dry Tortugas, and gazed upon glaciers in Denali, but I have never been so humbled, proud, or grateful than I was reading the accounts of the perseverance displayed by Thelma and the Little Rock Nine.