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10 governors later, Gettysburg College students see a different landscape in Little Rock

Press Shop | 02.06.2019

The nine from Gettysburg peered out the governor’s window at the sculpture of the Little Rock 9, the historic Central High School students frozen in 1957 on the north side of the state capitol. Their recent visit to Little Rock was one of several stops in Arkansas, a journey intended to broaden their perceptions about the South.

Asa HutchinsonSixty-one years ago, this window opened up on a landscape far different than their view in 2019. From this office in 1957, the state’s 36th governor called up the Arkansas National Guard to protect Central High from the ruling federal intervention. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that any public school that was segregated by race was in violation of the Constitution.

As the students from Gettysburg College gathered at the window, Governor Asa Hutchinson stood beside his desk and briefly recounted the events of that fall, an era when “Little Rock” became shorthand for all that many saw was wrong with the South.

They are learning that some issues such as race relations and housing are bigger than any one region, says Dr. Robert E. Bohrer II, associate provost and dean of Public Policy Programs at Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute. They are American issues, he says.

The consideration of relationships between races wasn’t the only thing they considered on their trip. President Dwight Eisenhower, who had a close relationship with Gettysburg College, played a significant role in the crisis when he sent in the 101st Airborne to protect the Little Rock 9 as they enrolled at Central High.

The students are examining the elements of President Eisenhower’s leadership in the Central High standoff between state and federal government.

Their southern odyssey included stops in the Delta and a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

The students visited Governor Hutchinson, the 46th governor of Arkansas, two days after his second inauguration. The few minutes he spent with the Gettysburg 9 led him to reflections of his own about the events of 1957, which he shared in a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Faulkner County Library in Conway.

“To be in that governor’s office, where a previous governor wrongly excluded those children from Central High School … . As I look out my office window to the sculpture honoring the Little Rock 9, their faces, all nine, are looking back at the governor’s office. It is a reminder of how history treats us. … We have a responsibility to so many, and our decisions make a difference. The judgment of history is that the Little Rock 9 were courageous. They opened up doors. They expanded opportunity in America.

“Let’s not forget. Let’s engage. Let us serve. Let us have compassion. Let us reach out and make a difference.”

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