Former President Bill Clinton is to deliver the keynote address at a ceremony next month that will cap four days of events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. The eight surviving members of the Little Rock Nine, who integrated the formerly all-white school in 1957, are also expected to take part.
The event involving the former president will be held Monday, Sept. 25 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the school’s Roosevelt Thompson Auditorium. It is free and open to the public, but registration is required, which can be completed here.
Clinton has had a relationship with the nine going back to when he was governor of Arkansas. In 1987 he hosted them at the Governor’s Mansion, which was the first time all nine had gotten together in Little Rock since the 1957- 1958 school year.
Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore, chairman of the steering committee which has been planning this year’s commemoration events, spoke with KUAR Wednesday afternoon during All Things Considered.
MICHAEL HIBBLEN: So why was it important to get the former president involved?
CITY MANAGER BRUCE MOORE: Well, in visiting with the Little Rock Nine over the past year, they have a very close relationship with the president. He’s been engaged with the group for decades. He honored them as President at the 40th anniversary, he participated as a keynote speaker at the 50th and they felt it was very important to have him back and the committee concurred, so we started trying to visit with his staff at the foundation and whenever anybody had a chance to visit with him to talk about the 60th anniversary activities. So we’re very pleased to be able to announce that he’s coming.
HIBBLEN: The ceremony will be free and open to the public, though reservations are required, and they can be made at centralhigh60th.org, and listeners can find a link to that on KUAR’s website. Any hint on what he’ll discuss?
MOORE: Well, obviously he has a very special relationship with the nine, gave them the Congressional Medal of Freedom, and so I think that he will not only reflect on the past, but given the current nature of things that are going on in our country, I think he’ll talk about our future. And I think it’s very important that we not only talk about the past and the differences they’ve made in both the past 60 years, and our theme is “reflections of progress,” but also other challenges of the future.
HIBBLEN: And the integration of Central High School was among the defining moments of the civil rights struggle. It put Arkansas under an international spotlight as Governor Orval Faubus brought out the National Guard to prevent the integration and President Eisenhower then sending the Army to enforce the integration. Is it a challenge to effectively convey the drama of those days, especially to younger generations?
MOORE: I think it is, and I’ll just tell you I had a conference call with eight that are living and that gave me goosebumps. I haven’t seen them since the 50th all together, and as we were talking about the event, they’re all very excited and eight of them will be here. But they also talked about the threats that they still get. And as I was listening to them talk about that, I really hadn’t put that into perspective that even 60 years later, they get individual threats because of the stand that they took 60 years ago. So I think that it is one of the important things to them, and to be able to interact with the students, so we have the education symposium on that Saturday and I’m sure they’ll also be doing some individual things while they’re here for those five days.