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Public Statements

Senate Resolution 420

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SUBMITTED RESOLUTIONS: SENATE RESOLUTION 420-RECOMMENDING EXPENDITURES FOR AN APPROPRIATE VISITORS CENTER AT LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE TO COMMEMORATE THE DESEGREGATION OF LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

Mr. PRYOR (for himself and Mrs. LINCOLN) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

S. RES. 420

Whereas the United States recognizes that in September 1957, 9 young students changed the course of American history by claiming the right to receive an equal education;

Whereas Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo, known as the "Little Rock Nine", and their parents had the courage necessary to break the bonds of prejudice and desegregation and venture onto the world stage, with full knowledge of the perils and complexities inherent in their endeavor;

Whereas despite their effort to enroll at Little Rock Central High School and receive an education, the Little Rock Nine were met with severe adversity;

Whereas Little Rock Central High School became not only a crucial battleground in the struggle for civil rights, but symbolic of the United States Government's commitment to eliminating separate systems of education for African-Americans and Caucasians;

Whereas the enrollment of the Little Rock Nine was recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as such a significant event in the struggle for civil rights that he attended the graduation of the first African-American from Little Rock Central High School;

Whereas the sacrificial accomplishments that were made in September 1957 have continuing benefits for the United States today;

Whereas the United States will always revere the accomplishments that 9 young high school students made by showing the Nation and the world that "all men are created equal" and the rule of law is paramount in the democracy of the United States;

Whereas the Little Rock Nine were forced to obtain the blessings of liberty that are inherent in the United States Constitution through the intervention of the judicial branch and executive branch of the United States Government;

Whereas existing visitor facilities at Little Rock Central High School are inadequate, resulting in limited opportunities for citizens to learn about civil rights and our Nation's heritage; and

Whereas the legislative branch of the United States Government has the opportunity to appropriately commemorate the legacy that these heroic individuals left by fully funding the design and construction of an informative memorial: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that-

(1) the courage displayed by the Little Rock Nine should be commemorated as an example of American sacrifice through extreme adversity;

(2) Congress should fully fund the design and construction of a visitor center at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site; and

(3) the new facilities should open by September 2007 in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic events that occurred at Little Rock Central High School.

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, easily one of the most significant legal decisions in American history. But today I want to talk about another anniversary that is rapidly approaching, and that is an anniversary that flows directly from the Brown decision. I am speaking of the Little Rock Central High desegregation crisis which occurred in 1957. The 50th anniversary will be here in a couple of years, 2½ years, in 2007.

I come to the floor today to speak on behalf of the so-called Little Rock Nine and to share their story of determination and opportunity. I come to the floor also to urge my colleagues to join me in this effort to help fully support the planned Little Rock Central High Museum and Visitors Center and get it back on track so it will be up and running to host the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Central High crisis.

Let me remind my colleagues that it is just as important today that we spend time understanding the civil rights struggle and the civil rights movement in this country as it was in 1957. I am thrilled to have the support, the encouragement, and the assistance of the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, Elijah Cummings.

As you know, Brown did not erase the hatred and the prejudice that Black families face in this country. One of the most dramatic examples of that occurred on September 24, 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower ordered Federal troops to Little Rock, AR, to allow nine Black children to attend the all-White Little Rock Central High School.

In fact, if one looks back on 1957, the two largest world news stories that year were Sputnik and the events surrounding Central High School in Little Rock. The Little Rock Nine changed the course of American history by claiming their right to receive an equal education.

These students were Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Thelma Mothershed Wair, and Melba Pattillo Beals.

Of her experience, Melba Pattillo Beals recalls:

I had to become a warrior. I had to learn not how to dress the best, but how to get from that door to the end of the hall without dying.

These are very serious times. Another one of the Little Rock Nine, Ernest Green, explains why the Little Rock Nine sacrificed their innocence for a chance at a better education. He said:

We wanted to widen options for ourselves and later for our children.

Well, Mr. Green went on to become the first black student to graduate from Arkansas Central High. He later served as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Jimmy Carter and as vice president of Lehman Brothers.

Without his courage and determination and those of the Little Rock Nine in 1957, those opportunities would never have been available to him.

Turning opportunity into achievement is what civil rights pioneer Daisy Bates had in mind for the Little Rock Nine when she encouraged them to do the unthinkable. As a story, Little Rock Central High has all the elements of a great story, starting with the premise in the Declaration of Independence where it says all men are created equal.

Those words, penned by Thomas Jefferson, resonate throughout American history, but in 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court came down with the Brown decision where it said that separate but equal is not constitutional, and we need to change our American educational system "with all deliberate speed."

There was a Governor in my State who was committed to States rights, and he was determined to stop any changes at Little Rock Central. There was a President who was seeing his duty as one of having to enforce Federal law even against a State's will. There was a nation torn apart by race and searching for a new and sound public policy and public philosophy for civil rights for all Americans. There was a city, a State, and a region that got caught up in the events, and the emotions ofttimes, and there were dozens of local leaders who were working at odds and at cross-purposes, many with their own personal and political agendas, some trying to build and some trying to destroy.

Then, of course, in the center of the hurricane there were the nine black children, showing superhuman courage, facing incalculable odds but striking a severe blow at one of the worst injustices in American history.

I recommend to my colleagues that if they want to read more about this crisis, they can read Harry Ashmore's history of Arkansas, or Roy Reed's "Faubus." Both give an excellent coverage.

Little Rock Central High School today is a symbol. It at the same time symbolizes the best and the worst in American history. It simultaneously stands as a living monument to our dark past and to our bright future. It also stands for progress because Little Rock Central High School has been a remarkable school since 1957. It is consistently acknowledged as one of the best American high schools that we have in this country today.

In fact, I had the privilege in the late 1970s of attending Little Rock Central High School. I think I am the only Member of Congress who actually went to that school. I am very proud of being there and proud of all of the things that school stands for.

Little Rock Central High was designated as a unit of the National Park Service in 1998. In fact, in 2002 more than 24,000 people visited this historic site. They expect probably 60,000 by the year 2007. Unfortunately, the interim visitors center is only 500 square feet. One can slice it or dice it however they want to say it, but it is simply too small to house the significant history there and tell all the stories. In fact, if it was jam packed, it would only have room for about 35 people.

I was there for the 40th anniversary of the Central High crisis when President Bill Clinton and Governor Mike Huckabee symbolically opened the door for the Little Rock Nine. We are going to have another commemoration in 2007, the 50th anniversary of the crisis. I want to invite my colleagues to help join me in making sure we get the extra $5.8 million necessary to make this museum and visitors center a reality.

The last thing I would like to say is it took nine young high school students to prove to our Nation that all men are created equal and that the rule of law is paramount in democracy of the United States. Today, children all over America have the right to learn because of the courage and sacrifice the Little Rock Nine made, and I am here today asking for my colleagues to help us all recognize what the Little Rock Nine did and acknowledge them by allowing this visitors center to be built.

I am submitting a resolution as we speak, and I ask my colleagues to sign on if they would like to. Also, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Lincoln be added as the first original cosponsor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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