||:Aug 24, 1997;
City, Little Rock Were Desegregation Battlegrounds Historic Central Draws Elite
By Bobby _Ross _Jr_. Staff Writer
_. LITTLE ROCK, Ark. At Principal Rudolph Howard's high School, contrasts abound. Howard's _1_,800-student school serves, in his words, the poorest of the poor and the richest of the _rich, the worst of the worst and the best of the best. _Academically, the inner-city school produced 23 National Merit _Semifinahsts last year 22 more than the Oklahoma City School District.
But structurally, the mammoth tan brick building the largest school in America when built in 1927 desperately needs $6 million in _repairs.
Nearly two football fields long and five stories _high, this school towers over a _dilapidated, crimeridden neighborhood
A block away, drive-by _gunfire killed an 18-year-old last month.
Yet, for many of Little Rock's elite including Arkansas _Gov_. Mike _Huckabee_'_s loth-grade daughter this is the school.
"There's a lot of people who finagle to get their kids _in," said Sam _Blair_, the guidance department chairman. "We really sort of manage to attract students from the entire central Arka" - _..is area." Such is _histor _c _L _ttle Rock _Cen _tral High School, 0 years after President Dwight _Eisenhower sent 1,200 soldiers to help nine black students integrate the school and change a nation.
On Sept. 2, 1957, _Gov_. _Orval Fau-See _IITTLE _KOCK_, Page 14-A
From Page 1-A bus ordered_, the Arkansas National Guard to _prohibit the "Little Rock Nine" from entering Central High. The next morning, disgruntled white parents, students and pastors conducted a sunrise service at Central High, _singing "Dixie" and waving the Confederate flag. When the black students tried to enter Central High, guardsmen and an angry white mob turned them away. On Sept. 20, U.S. District Judge Ronald _Davies ruled Faubus had not used the troops to preserve law and order. Davies ordered the troops removed. Three days later, the black students en _tered Central through a side door as more than 1,000 whites cursed and fought out front. But fearing for the students' safety, police _snuck them out of the school that same _morning. Elsenhower called the rioting disgraceful and ordered federal troops to Little Rock. On Sept. 24, 1,200 members of the 101st Airborne Division, the "Screaming Eagles" of Fort _Campbell_, Ky., rolled into Little Rock. In addition, Elsenhower put the Arkansas National Guard under federal control The next day, the nine black students rode to Central High in an Army staff car. More than 20 soldiers escorted them inside. The blacks endured taunts and insults but attended Central the rest of the year. Jim _Wilson_, an Oklahoma Christian University history professor, taught at Central in 1962. "Even though they were integrated, blacks still walked around in little groups for protection," Wilson _said. But circumstances had changed when Wilson returned to Central a few years later. "The black football coach had just won a state championship, and they had elected a black _homecoming queen. It was a lot different." The Little Rock case tested the 1954 Brown vs. the Topeka, _Kan., Board of Education _ruling. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" _doctrine. "It was really a turning _point," Wilson said of the Little Rock Nine. "You had a governor of a state _.. and he would not obey the law. This case proved that nobody is _afcove the law."
Today, Craig Rains owns a public _elations firm and has an executive suite blocks from the Arkansas State _Capitol.
But in 1957, he was the senior class representative at Central _High. Like many white classmates, he feels slighted by _history.
"The impression was, we were the bad guys," said Rams, whose clients include the Oklahoma Soft Drink _Association. "That's been perpetuated all the way down basically by people who didn't do _their homework."
_Ut the _i_._iiUU white students, roughly three dozen caused _problen _s that year, _Rains said. "The other 1,770 were there _t get an _education and abide by the law of the _land." People ask why the white students never rallied for _integration. Rains responds that it was the 1950s "Had wo been born in the _'60s, when the _Vietnam War caused young people to take a look at themselves, it might have been _different," he said. "We _might have taken up causes, been much more _aggressive. "But we didn't know to do that. _. We wore a product of our _time." As senior _representative_. Rams raised the U.S. flag outside Central each morning Ho learned firsthand what hate can do. "I saw some crazy people out there, and I saw what mob mentality will do, I got a new perspective on what was going on. I decided I had something, and if those kids wanted what I had, that was _fine." He vividly recalls Sept. 23, 1957. Ho had just returned inside when the side door opened and the nine black students walked in. "They wore just kind of lost. And I said, 'Arc ya'll looking for the office_?_' I said, 'Well, come on, I'll show you_._'" As Rains and the Little Rock Nine walked down the hall, _somo students ran out the door, "By _then, the mob outside know the blacks _were inside and they started scronmmg_._" Measuring _Progress
Today, blacks make up 61 percent of Contral's enrollment, And for the first _tlino_, the school has a hli'ick _fcni_.'ilo student body _president. "It's about sotting _procorionts_,_" _F_.ttliiui _McKiiuh_'_ii_, _17, _saiil _ul _hrr election, "It was just about time tlioy had _one. It foels_,goolT to know the stu-. _dents. _hs_»>*' ' confidonco In _mo_, to _y _tho racial _barrlor but also _the _McKin _ra _strai _ht A student, calls her school the best _m _Arka _s She _cit s _ts and academic quality. Central has neighborhood attendance boundaries. It also has an international studies magnet program that attracts students from all over Little Rock. "We go from offering _remedial courses to _AP (advanced placement) courses that are as close to a college course as you can get," _McKindra _said. "Mr. _Charlie Brown's AP European history _is the most feared class at Central."
On the 40th anniversary Sept. 25, Central students will welcome President Clinton and the entire Little Rock Nine, now _in their late 50s
At the same _time, the school will celebrate the opening of the $1 million Central High _Visitors Center, in what was a gas station across the street in 1957. Prominent Little Rock businessman _Rett Tucker, who is _white, spearheaded fund-raising for the visitors center, which will tell Central's story. "I think _it's important for Little Rock and Arkansas to talk about it," said Tucker, whose son attends Central and whose daughter graduated last year "Some people have said this is a black eye and something that should be forgotten. The people that are working on this visitors center and this commemoration feel like you can't sweep it under the rug. "It's not going to go away. So, why not deal with _it and learn from it and the progress that has been made?" But the amount of progress depends on the speaker
From 1968 to 1886, civil rights attorney John _Walket was influential in Oklahoma City _desegregation The Little Rock attorney represented black _optome _tnst _A_._L_. _Dowell_, who sued when the Oklahoma _City School Board denied his son admission to all-white Northeast High School. Dowell's lawsuit led to courtordered _busing In Little Rock, Walker has pursued Ins black plaintiffs' desegregation case since 1964. "That's still a segregated school," Walker said of Central. "It's segregated _accordinc_; to _ppnnormr_^ _" While whites make up only one-third _ot Little Rock's 25,000 students, they account for nearly half the students placed in gifted programs. Of Central's 23 National Merit _Semifmahsts_, all but one were _white. However, Central has accounted for 15 of Arkansas' 32 black _semifmalists since 1988 "The children of the privileged and the well-to-do do got a good education at Central High _School, and some of the others get a good education as well," _Walker said. "But all too many of our children are in _special education and other kinds of education that are more or loss dead-ended." Blacks tend to be ovorreprcsonted in special education, said Ann Brown, who oversees Little Rock's federal Office of Desegregation _Monitoring. _Likewise, black students' standardized tost _scores still lag behind whites', although the gap has narrowed. But Brown, whoso husband, James "Charlie" Brown, teaches at Central and whose son just started his sophomore year _there, said progress has _occurred. "But it's difficult to change society's attitudes and customs and norms_. It takes a _while. But while a lot remains to bo _done, I think _it's important to recognixe progress that has been made." In _tho view of Principal Howard, educators must remain steadfast. Stick to the basics. Teach the academic core _subjects. Resist fads. And, ho _believes, the _rost will come. A classroom door _cronks as Howard stops _inside. Like most of Central's 100 classrooms, this 0110 _hns no computers _aiid no place to plug them in if it did. Paint is pooling off the _wall. Coiling _tilos _iiro _caving in But _« _bullotin board lists students' names and wlu'ro they hope to attend _colle_^_o_. Mogan Bradk'y University of _Missouri. Will _Trico _SMU_. Snrah Keith -- Brown _University. _Josopli Guv - Mnrolionsp _rollpRp_. _Larlssn JonninRs II_;uvard_. "Some _poopio think that _fino buildings and _« lot of modern equipment and all kinds of technological resources inako the _dinbrence In making a quality student," Howard _aalcl_. "I'll take a little _bit. of _that. "But I don't think _that's _whnt it's about. It's _about cai'InK and commitment to make a _difference."
_rhe _Little _Pholo by Stephen _rn _n History is not just a course offering _tt _e Rock Central High School, where Rudolph Howard is serving his fifth year as principal. The Little Rock, Ark., school is historical.
_Fallma _McKlndra look past _noT_"_o sexual _bnrrlor _'