Arkansas is wonderfully green and forested. Even though the forests tend to look rather scraggly, they are definitely clumps of trees. Western Arkansas is the Timberlands section of the state, complete with lumber trucks, fields of baby pine trees, and scruffy landscapes which have been cut but not yet cleared. The forests look as though they spring back into life almost at once after being harvested, but we're sure it is really more a matter of a decade or so before the old lumbering scars are covered again. Central High School
Competing for natural color with the forests are the bushes and flowers just at their peak right now. Dogwood, azalea, wisteria, cherry (and numerous other fruit trees) fill the front yards of even the more modest houses. The dogwoods grow wild in the forests, sprinkling the spring green with dots of dazzling white flowers.
Little Rock, the state capital, seems relatively prosperous and busy. A recent effort is the Riverfront Market area, on the bank of the Arkansas River, where small specialized markets displayed jewelry, handmade clothing, fresh farmers' market produce and flowers, and indoor vendors competed for sales of meat and prepared foods which could be eaten at the many outdooor tables. This is the area which will someday house the Clinton Presidential Library.
Not many miles but worlds away from the Riverfront Market is Central High School, where in 1957 nine brave Afro-American youngsters walked through throngs of hate-filled adults to attend then all-white Central High School. The neighborhood is all Afro-American now, the houses showing need of paint and plantings, but in the 1950s, judging by the opulent architecture of Central High School, it must have been prime real estate. Although the courts can mandate de jure integration through desegregation of public facilities, they are powerless to stop de facto segregation caused by white flight. New Central High Memorial
The Visitors' Center for the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is housed in a former gas station, now whitewashed to a brilliant white, its scarlet gas pumps looking comically antique. Inside, we read the story of the school integration effort, remembering that year, how frightening we had found the scenes of taunts and harrassment, the armed soldiers,how moved we were by the small solemn children in their starched clothing.
Across the street from the high school is a new memorial, designed by two local artists. In a new garden, atop a gentle rise, are two arches, designed to resemble the front facade of Central High School -- only the statues on these gates are not Classical figures but representatives of different ethnic groups. On the interior wall of each arch is a collage of photographs, somehow printed on the shiny surface of the monument, representing the history of the school, from its beginnings in 1927 through the civil rights struggle, to today.
We were moved by the visitors' center displays, but especially touched by this hopeful and creative commemoration.
Easter Sunday in Little Rock, it seems, is a time to get out and enjoy the perfect spring weather. We took a walk in Murray Park, on the shore of the Arkansas River, where pelicans on a sand bar hoped for fish, where the occasional fisherman in a quiet cove cast his lure, where families enjoyed the playground or biked or walked along the riverside paths. We were surprised to see a full-sized lock, and only wished a barge would have appeared, to demonstrate it. But that, on an Easter Morning, was too much to expect!