Photo: Jeff Greenberg / Contributor via Getty Images
  /  03.03.2023

In 1957, nine Black students were part of the first integrated class at Arkansas’ Little Rock Central High School. The Little Rock Nine, as they became known, were taken to class every day by the National Guard to protect them from white students threatening them and to enforce the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling eliminating segregation in places of learning. Today (March 3), members of the Little Rock Central community protested to preserve that history in their curriculum and fight a new education bill expected to be signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The walkout occurred around 1 p.m. and was organized by their student council, Young Leftists Club, Black Student Union, and Gay-Straight Alliance, among other groups. It comes after they penned an open letter to Gov. Sanders voicing their concerns with the LEARNS Act currently moving through the Arkansas legislature. The bill bans any lessons that would “indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as critical race theory” as well as any classroom instruction on “gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual reproduction” before fifth grade.

Sanders is herself an alumna of Little Rock Central, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1982. During her response to President Biden’s State of the Union address last month, she expressed pride in her alma mater and the progress that has been made in the decades since the late 1950s. But, the people walking those halls today aren’t convinced. “Governor Sanders’ approach is completely antithetical to the values that Central High stands for,” the open letter stated plainly. “As much as she tries to desperately cling to the legacy of our historic institution, we, as students of Central High, unequivocally reject her exploitation of our school’s achievements.”

Ernest Quirk, a senior who helped write the letter, found it ironic that the governor would honor the impact of the Little Rock Nine when she’s poised to suppress education about America’s racist past.

“Me and all of my peers and a lot of my teachers, I know lots of people who were pretty disappointed and honestly appalled by the fact that she had kind of invoked the significance of Central,” Quirk told ABC News. “The history of Central that she celebrates and touts as kind of part of her image, those are the kinds of things that would potentially be in danger with… this attack on what she calls indoctrination.”

“The Little Rock Nine deserve to have their stories told,” he added, “and I think it would be a tragedy if those stories were to be lost.”



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