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Grant Awarded to Restore Central High Exterior Features

A grant totaling nearly $500,000 will help restore the historic exterior of Little Rock Central High School, one of 39 preservation projects across the country to receive funding through the African American Civil Rights Grant Program, the National Park Service announced this week.

The program is designed to preserve resources and highlight the sites and stories associated with the Civil Rights Movement. The City of Little Rock, in partnership with the Little Rock School District, applied for a grant of $499,372.56 in October.

“Central High stands as a significant landmark in the Civil Rights movement, and it is fitting that this project was selected this year, the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine entering the school on those front steps,” City Manager Bruce T. Moore said. “The events of that period are forever etched into our collective memory, so we are grateful that this piece of history will continue to be preserved thanks to this collaborative effort between the City and the Little Rock School District and through the National Park Service." 

The restoration project will further the goals established in both Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Action Plan and Little Rock’s historic preservation plans to “enhance education efforts on the economic benefits and sustainability of historic preservation.” It ensures that the public will be able to continue to visit this living resource for years to come to learn first-hand about the integration efforts in Little Rock schools.

U.S. Senator John Boozman encouraged the Little Rock School District to apply for the competitive grant. The City joined as the Certified Local Government eligible to apply for the grant.

"I am honored to help secure funding for the preservation of Little Rock Central High School so we can continue to tell the story of the fight for equality,” Boozman said. “This unique national historic site is alive each day with students who walk the halls. We must ensure that future generations have the opportunity to learn about the Civil Rights movement and the struggles experienced by Arkansans." 

A historic structures report conducted by restoration architect John Greer of Witsell, Evans, Rasco found that repairs were needed to prevent water damage to the exterior to the structure, which was built in 1927. The front steps, terrace and parapets on the north and south wings will be restored, repaired and reinforced. Work will include the installation of a waterproof membrane, the protection of the building envelope and the resealing of parapet caps. All work will be done in accordance with the Secretary of Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

“Our students are very connected with the Little Rock Nine and 1957,” Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau said. “Receiving a gift of this nature further enhances our students’ understanding of Central’s place in the history of Civil Rights.”

Little Rock Central High School played an important role in the desegregation of our nation’s public schools. In September 1957, nine African-American students changed the course of history as they ascended the steps of Central High with the 101st Airborne Division as their escort. The Little Rock Nine, as the group was known, came to symbolize the ideals of justice and equality.

Named as a National Historic Site in 1998, Central High is the only operating high school in the nation to receive such a designation.

According to the National Park Service, the competitive grant program will fund 39 projects worth $7,750,000, including surveys, documentation, interpretation, education, oral histories, planning, and bricks and mortar preservation.