Little Rock’s Central High School is one of over 130 locations on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail that spans 14 states.
Lee Sentell, the director of the Alabama Tourism Department, has been a leader in developing the trail. Sentell spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service Monday.
“This is a process that started indirectly about 15 years ago,” said Sentell. “President Obama and the director of the National Park Service decided there needed to be more diversity in our national parks and in our nominations for World Heritage sites.”
According to Sentell, the list began with 60 potential locations, and has since grown into over double that. Gretchen Hall, president of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, has represented Little Rock in the development of the trail as part of the 12-state tourism group known as Travel South USA.
“Little Rock is blessed to have six of the over 100 sites on the trail, including one of the top 10 designations on the trail in Little Rock Central High School,” Hall said.
Central High gained notoriety in 1957 as the school that attempted to defy the U.S. Supreme Court and deny entrance to nine black students.
Travel South USA helped develop the trail to add more depth and options for tourists, mostly from colleges, who were making annual learning trips to the south to visit notable civil rights sites, such as the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where armed police attacked civil rights demonstrators in 1965.
Other Little Rock sites on the trail include the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Clinton Presidential Center, and Daisy Bates home. Sentell praised the leadership in the city for working to preserve and maintain its links to the civil rights movement.
“I think there’s very good news yet to come,” Sentell said. “We’re probably two or three years away from the actual nomination, but everything that we have seen from the historians [indicates] there’s no site in the country that rates higher than Central High School and Woolworth’s in North Carolina as far as future potential for World Heritage site.”
Being adopted as a World Heritage site could lead to increased visibility, funding, and tourism for sites on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The trail was formally announced on Martin Luther King day earlier this year. Hall said it’s too soon to tell the being included on the trail will have on local tourism.