Lessons of Courage and Determination at Little Rock Central High School

— Chih Lee, Share the Experience

In September 1957, Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas became a critical flashpoint in our nation’s struggle for equality and inclusion. Nine African-American students enrolled at the once all-white school, testing the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which had deemed segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The unwavering persistence of these youths in the face of anger remains a moving example of courage and determination in the fight for civil rights.

Today, Little Rock Central High School and its far-reaching history are preserved by the National Park Service. As the only national park operating within a functioning school, the site inspires future generations to engage with and lead important conversations about equality and inclusion.

Harlee Watson, a locomotive engineer with Union Pacific Railroad, graduated from Little Rock Central High in 1996.

Harlee Watson, a locomotive engineer with Union Pacific Railroad, standing in front of Little Rock Central High School

Harlee Watson

Union Pacific

“The Little Rock Nine symbolize perseverance, determination and the overall embodiment of the human spirit,” says Watson. “The older I get, the more I realize the significance of what they did for us – and for me. That was a very significant milestone for not only African-Americans, but for race relations in our country.”

The National Park Foundation and its partner Union Pacific Railroad are working to ensure all young people, regardless of socioeconomic status, are connected to places like Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site through the Open Outdoors for Kids program. The goal is to connect 1 million students to national parks and public lands by 2022.

A National Park Service employee showing a display board with the history of railroads
National Park Service

The Open Outdoors for Kids program invites teachers and students to experience their local national parks by underwriting the cost of field trips, including education materials and transportation. As part of that effort, Union Pacific is helping connect more than 42,000 young people from 16 states with 28 national parks. Their partnership covered more than 20 percent of all students served by Open Outdoors for Kids in the 2018-2019 school year.

National parks highlight the story of everyday citizens, activists, and young people who effected change, made a difference, and now serve as role models for all America’s young people. Encouraging the next generation to learn from the past and become champions of those lessons is critical to developing our future leaders.

A diverse group of students on a field trip through Open Outdoors for Kids outside in a national park
National Park Service

The National Park Foundation is proud to partner with Union Pacific and its employees to broaden the impact of Open Outdoors for Kids. Visit the Open Outdoors for Kids site to learn more about this wide-reaching program and the incredible #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque learning opportunities it enables.

After all, it is only by learning the important stories like those preserved at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site that we can continue to teach and inspire our next generation of parkgoers and leaders.


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