On September 25, 1997, nine middle-aged black men and women passed through the doors of Little Rock Central High School, much like they had done forty years, although with a much different reception (see 1957: Little Rock Nine come to school). Instead of being spit on and insulted by a mob outside the school, they were greeted by U.S. President Clinton, himself a former Arkansas governor who had lived 50 miles from Little Rock as an 11-year old boy when the explosive events took place.
"Forty years ago, they climbed these steps, passed through this door and moved our nation, and for that we must all thank them," said Clinton, who was aware that racial inequalies had not yet been removed. "Forty years later, we know that there are still more doors to be opened, doors to be opened wider, doors we have to keep from being shut again." Indeed, Clinton raised his concern that "for the first time since the 1950s, our schools in America are resegregating," in reference to 'white flight' to affluent suburbs, leaving minority students in poor urban schools. Clinton also lamented that students voluntarily separated themselves by race in school cafeterias and sporting events, and that the rollback of affirmative action was restricting access of poor minorities to higher education. He admitted that the new forms of school segregation are part and parcel of increasing economic and geographic segregation in American society: "Segregation is no longer the case, but too often separation is still the rule. And we cannot forget one stubborn fact that has not yet been said as clearly as it should: There is still discrimination in America."
At Little Rock Central High, the doors are now open for white and black students alike. Black students constitute the majority of enrollments, although white students are overrepresented in honors classes. As the century closes it becomes clear that, in spite of all the achievements of civil rights movements, and in spite of all legislative efforts for desegregation, equality of educational opportunity is still far from being a reality. For this reason, some members of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)--the organization that led the civil rights movement in the 1950s and took a prominent role in the legal battle for desegregation that ended in Brown v. Board of Education--boycotted the celebration of September 25, arguing that its festive tone was inconsistent with the racial, economic, social, and educational problems faced by African Americans in Little Rock today.
Peterson, Jonathon (1997, September 26). This time, 'Little Rock Nine' get VIP treatment on entering school. Los Angeles Times: A14.
Pool, Bob (1997, September 26). Echoes of Little Rock. Los Angeles Times: B1, B6.
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