Discovering the Best in Little Rock,
Article and Photos by
Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel
When you visit Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, the
“must-see” site is all about the state’s most famous and
celebrated native, Bill Clinton: The Clinton Presidential
Center. The three buildings of the center sit on 30 acres of a
city park, and the public may tour the Library which opened in
2004. Begin by watching a 12-minute video that gives a quick
overview of President Clinton’s life and political career. Then
continue on to the many exhibits where you can study him in
depth. Start with the Alcove Exhibits, whose design was inspired
by the library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Thirteen alcoves concentrate on the policies of Clinton’s
administration, and the piers of each alcove contain archive
boxes filled with White House correspondence.
of the Oval Office
You’ll be able to enter the replica of the Clinton Cabinet Room,
and interact with the exhibits that explain the organization of
the Cabinet and the White House presidential staff. You’ll also
learn about the making of critical decisions.
Upstairs, you’ll find a replica of the Oval Office, memorabilia
and fabulous gifts received from foreign heads of state.
Throughout the center are displays commemorating the
accomplishments and personal remembrances of Clinton’s two terms
as president. Located on the third floor is the private
apartment where the Clintons stay when in Little Rock, which is
not open to the public.
One display not to miss is the case devoted to the Little Rock
Nine. You’ll see the Medals of Honor (the highest award in the
country) that President Clinton had Congress give to them.
Little Rock Central High School
The Little Rock Nine put the city on the national map. On
September 23, 1957, the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus,
denied entrance to Little Rock Central High School to nine
African American students. He was testing the authority of the
federal court system that had ruled in favor of desegregation
throughout the United States. (This incident was the first
important challenge to the historic decision of the 1954 US
Supreme Court that segregation was unconstitutional and harmful
to black students.) The Little Rock police escorted the students
pass a vicious mob of white protestors, and into the school.
When the mob outside became violent, the black teens were
swiftly and safely removed.
The next day, by orders of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the
students were escorted inside the school by armed Arkansas
National Guards who had been federalized. A taskforce of
guardsmen remained inside the building with them for the entire
Three of the Little Rock Nine graduated from that high school,
and most finished college and went on to exceptional careers.
They are still alive, but only one resides in Little Rock.
Little Rock Central High School has been placed on the National
Register of Historic Places, and has been deemed a National
Historic Landmark. Although the school is still in use, you may
visit it by joining a tour at the museum across the street,
operated by the National Park Service.
To learn more about African American heritage in Little Rock,
head over to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. The Mosaic
Templars were once one of the most important African American
fraternal organizations in the USA. It was established in 1882
in Little Rock as a vehicle to provide insurance to the black
community who were unable to purchase it from white companies.
It also provided other services, educational opportunities and
A museum is housed within the center, and reveals both the proud
achievements and horrific history of African Americans in Little
Rock and Arkansas, such as the lynching of John Carter and the
story of the millionaire Hedwood family who discovered oil on
their land. Photographs, busts and artifacts fill the galleries.
A temporary exhibition,
Shades of Greatness: Art Inspired by Negro Leagues Baseball,
will be on display until December 1, 2013.
Shades of Greatness: Art Inspired by Negro Leagues
Be sure to go to the third floor to view the Arkansas Black Hall
of Fame with luminaries like Maya Angelou, John H. Johnson (the
founder of Ebony), Dr. Debby Turner (a former Miss America) and
Dr. Jocelyn Elders (the US Surgeon General under Bill Clinton).
Stop by their gift shop for collectibles, art and an extensive
selection of books on African American history.
For contemporary African American books, head to Hearne Fine Art
Gallery that has an amazing collection of books, especially
those for children. Hearne also specializes in showcasing
artwork by emerging and established national and local black
artists. In its permanent collection are works by Henry O.
Tanner, Edward Bannister and Clementine Hunter.
For more mainstream art, the Arkansas Arts Center has a
permanent collection of European and American artwork and
crafts. The institution highlights the importance of drawing,
but you’ll also discover paintings by Paul Cezanne, Alfred
Sisley and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Look for a wonderful
woodcut by Albrecht Durer.
The center also includes a museum school of art for adults and
children. Its Kids Theater has six performances a year, enjoyed
by 45,000 youngsters.
Another important art makes its home in Little Rock. The Oxford
American, a quarterly literary magazine that focuses on Southern
culture and the work of Southern writers, is published in Little
Rock. Although its offices aren’t open to the public, you may
dine at its new restaurant, South on Main, that serves the best
of Southern cuisine. The venue also presents a forum for film,
literature and art of the South.
South on Main
Little Rock and the region hold many other innovative,
interesting, entertaining experiences and venues – too many to
list here. So go, already.