Sen. Tom Cotton on expanding the Central High School Historic Site

Tom Cotton

Editor’s note: Several senators have introduced a bill to extend the boundary of Little Rock’s Central High School Historical Site to include nearby homes. The full text of Senator Cotton’s introduction appears after the jump.

September will mark the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who enrolled in the then-all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Ask anyone who lived through the crisis, and they will tell you they remember it vividly.

They may not have been there in person, but they remember the photos, those searing images of an angry mob, the stoic students, the bayoneted troops, all gathering in a high school, of all places.

—Sen. Tom Cotton (R–AR)

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions, Senate Floor, May 23, 2017

Expand to read the full statement

From the Congressional Record, Senate – May 23, 2017

Mr. COTTON. Mr. President, September will mark the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who enrolled in the then-all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Ask anyone who lived through the crisis, and they will tell you they remember it vividly. They may not have been there in person, but they remember the photos, those searing images of an angry mob, the stoic students, the bayoneted troops, all gathering in a high school, of all places.

Perhaps the most searing image is of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine who was then only 15 years old. She didn’t get word that the other students were going as a group. She went alone in a simple black-and-white dress she had made just for the occasion. The mob baited her, menaced her, cursed her, some threatened to lynch her. She later said of her walk to the school’s entrance: “It was the longest block I’ve ever walked in my whole life.”

I think it is of the highest importance that we preserve their story and share it with our kids. It is a reminder of pretty sad times in our history and, more important, of the courage shown by nine young Arkansans, who helped our State and our Nation overcome deep-seated prejudices by appealing to the better angels of our nature. We preserve historic battlefields like Yorktown and Gettysburg because we want our children to know what it took to gain and keep our freedom–the sacrifices made, the hardships endured. Equally important is preserving historic sites like Central High, where our citizens began the long road to freedom from oppression and intolerance.

That is why we made Central High School a historic site years ago, though with one oversight. There are seven homes across the street from the school. Their exteriors were in many of the pictures that are now so famous. There has long been a movement to preserve those exteriors so future generations will be able to see Central High exactly as it looked when the Little Rock Nine arrived to school.

I am proud to say that today I am introducing a bill with three of my colleagues–the senior Senator of Vermont Pat Leahy, Congressman French Hill of Little Rock, and civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis–that would do just that. It would extend the boundary of the Central High historical site to include these seven homes.

It would add about an acre and a half to the park, although I should say this bill would not authorize the Federal Government to take ownership of the homes and wouldn’t allow the National Park Service to buy them in the future. Instead, it would simply encourage the homeowners and National Park Service to work together to preserve these homes so future generations could see them and learn from them. That is one reason our bill has the support of the homeowners, the Central High Neighborhood Association, and my State’s historic preservation advocacy group, Preserve Arkansas.

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