Commemorating Courage: 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Central High


Exhibit Description

This online exhibit revisits the history of the 1957 Central High crisis through select quotes from President Clinton’s remarks at the 40th Anniversary Commemoration, an examination of the speechwriting process required to craft these remarks, documents, and images from the archives at the Clinton Library.  The exhibit also provides links to additional historical materials maintained by other institutions.

In September 2017, we commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  As someone who remembered the event as a child, and as President during the 40th Anniversary Commemoration, President Clinton holds a special connection to this history.

Speechwriters met with President Clinton to craft a message that would commemorate the sacrifice and courage of the Little Rock Nine and inspire those who heard the message to step out in similar acts of courage. The writers addressed the failures of a system of government that attempted to exclude individuals from the American Dream and resolved that America would only ever truly be great if everyone had equal access to opportunities.

Curriculum Connections

Arkansas Department of Education Standards

Activity Suggestions –

Student should review the Commemorating Courage exhibit before completing any of the following assignments. Students may work in groups or individually.

  • Option One
    Each student or team selects a particular portion of the speech and examines how the content in the speech drafts found on the “What Happened Here” page differs from the actual speech Clinton gave at the 40th Anniversary Commemoration. Students give an oral report or complete a writing assignment on how the content changed between drafts. Ask students to speculate on why the edits were made. (For example – Why do you think President Clinton changed a particular word or phrase, mentioned a specific person, or included a certain quote?)

    • Extension Activity/Informed Action Component:
      Each student or team writes a short speech to commemorate a historically significant local, state, regional, or national event. The drafts are reviewed by one or more students or teams and suggestions for edits are passed along to the original author(s). As a class, the students combine the best elements of the drafts.
      The final speech can be presented at an assembly or school open house (live or recorded), shared as a podcast (audio only or video file) through social media, and/or as a press release to traditional media outlets.
  • Option Two
    The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress. A unique design is created to reflect the recipient(s) every time the Congressional Gold Medal is awarded. Each student or team examines the design of the medal awarded to the Little Rock Nine found on the “We Must All Thank Them” page, reviews the list of recipients found on the United States House of Representatives website, conducts research on a recipient other than the Little Rock Nine, and writes a recommendation for an individual, group, or organization who has not previously been recognized to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, and designs a medal based on their accomplishment(s). Students then present their findings, recommendations, and design in a written report, multimedia presentation (such as PowerPoint, Prezi, or  iMovie), website, poster, or exhibit board.
    Extension Activity/Informed Action Component:

    • Organize an assembly or school open house where students can share the information with other classes/grades, parents, and members of the general public.
    • Students write a letter to their United States Senators and Representative with their recommendation for an individual, group, or organization to be recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal.
  • Option Three
    Little Rock Central High School is listed on both the Arkansas State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. President Clinton signed legislation designating it as a National Historic Site. Students will review the nomination records and legislation for Little Rock Central High School found on the “Honor Those Who Made It Possible” page and National Park Service National Register of Historic Places website to learn the differences between each designation. Students then search the National Register database to identify a local property of historic significance and conduct research (polls, surveys, interviews) to gauge public awareness of the site.
    Extension Activity/Informed Action Component:

    • Students create social media campaigns to promote awareness of the site they selected.
    • Students should identify the State Historic Preservation Officer for their state and research a local site that may have significant historical value that is not already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Students can then use the National Park Service National Register Criteria to determine if the site is eligible and complete the nomination form the National Historic Register of Historic Places.