Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours of the best Little Rock attractions. Some people might see that Central High School is one of the most famous Little Rock attractions and feel confused. Why would someone travel all the way to Little Rock, Arkansas just to visit a high school?
Well, Central High School is not just any high school. It’s one of the most famous high schools in America, and it’s certainly one of the most historic places in Arkansas.
If the names “Little Rock Nine”, “Orval Faubus”, and “President Eisenhower” don’t mean anything to you know, they certainly will after our virtual journey of Central High School. It’s a day of courage, conviction, and an adorable pet pig I promise we will not eat.
24 Hours: Little Rock Attractions
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Arkansas can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
And if you want to find great deals on many hotels in Little Rock, just click here.
24 Hours: Little Rock Attractions
Morning: Central High School
Central High School used to be an entirely segregated, all-white school. After the Supreme Court decided, in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional, Central High School was forced to integrate. The first brave African-American students to attend Central High School were also known as the Little Rock Nine. (That’s because there were nine of them. You really shouldn’t need me to tell you that, Internet Stranger.)
Central High School is still a working high school. However, it’s also a national historic site and one of the most famous Little Rock attractions. The only way to get into the Central High as a tourist is with a guided ranger tour. The tours are only offered on weekdays. (Again, Central High is still a working school.) You have to book far in advance, and there’s no guarantee of availability. I was not personally able to book a tour.
However, the visitor center is always open, so even if you can’t take the tour, the center will certainly teach you…
three facts about central high school
1) Central High School Crisis
If there is one name in Arkansas history that is destined to go down in infamy, it is former Governor Orval Faubus. Even his name sounds like a villain out of Faulkner, but sadly he was an actual human being. Faubus led the Arkansas National Guard in keeping the nine African-American students from attending classes at Central High School. Racist protesters were allowed to scream at and harass the Little Rock Nine with impunity.
In response to this crisis, and after failed attempts to negotiate with Faubus, President Eisenhower sent the National Guard into Little Rock to ensure that the Little Rock Nine were able to attend Central High. You can still watch the broadcast in which Eisenhower explains this remarkable decision to the nation. (Just imagine the President sending the National Guard into a state today to overrule a decision made by the governor of that state today.)
2) Eight to Go…
The troubles of the Little Rock Nine didn’t end with Eisenhower sending in the National Guard. The students were harassed and threatened with physical violence on a daily basis at Central High. If any white students tried to be friendly to them, the white students would also begin receiving threatening phone calls.
One of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown, dropped her chili on a white student from Central High named Dean Gitchel while she was being harassed by a group of white students. (Gitchel was not one of the students harassing her; in fact Brown claims that he was a “nice kid”.) Unbelievably, Brown was the one suspended for this incident. She was later expelled for calling a girl who was bullying her “white trash”. Some white students printed out cards afterwards saying “One Down, Eight to Go”.
Despite the repeated abuse, Brown went on to become a civil rights activist, and three members of the Little Rock Nine graduated from Central High. (The rest went to other schools.) There’s a made for TV movie called The Ernest Green Story about the first one to graduate from Central High, starring Morris Chestnut.
3) The Gas Station
Since President Bill Clinton was from Arkansas, it seemed fitting that he’d be the president to turn Central High into a National Historic Site. Upon my arrival at the Visitor Center, I was surprised to learn that the gas station across the street was considered to be part of the historic site. Apparently this gas station was where reporters camped out during the 1950s while observing the Little Rock Nine enter and exit the school.
According to the National Parks Service website, the integration of Central High was one of the first major news stories to be covered on television. It also served as the original visitor center for Central High until a more sophisticated one could be built.
Now the gas station near Central High, which has been so well preserved that it appears to be stuck in the 1950s via flux capacitor, serves as a reminder of a time many would rather forget. But perhaps the racial tension and anger of the 1950s isn’t really as far off as we think.
24 Hours: Little Rock Attractions
Afternoon: Explore Little Rock
If you have a heart (and I think it’s pretty hard to read a blog without a hard, unless you are the Tin Woodman), I imagine you’re pretty shaken up after the morning at Central High. But rest assured, modern Little Rock isn’t all racism and misery. There’s enough enjoyable attractions to satisfy tourists for days. Allow me to prove it to you with…
Approximately Top 5: Little Rock
1) Root Cafe
Like any other happening city, Little Rock has plenty of restaurants promising to serve local produce and support local businesses. In fact the food just might be one of the best Little Tock attractions. So don’t visit Arkansas’s capital without checking out The Root Cafe. You’ll have to wait on line, but you won’t mind when sandwiches like this flavorful deviled egg salad on fresh bread are waiting for you at the other end. Deviled eggs are such a Southern party tradition. It’s simply genius to turn them into a sandwich.
Another reason the line isn’t painful is this jolly fellow below.
This is the Pig Who Was Thursday. Thursday is a friend; he is not to be turned into bacon. Also he inexplicably barks like a dog, which is literally the cutest thing I have ever heard. The Root Cafe’s food is amazing, but I think they could serve no food at all and trick people into waiting on line all day just to get a glimpse of Thursday.
2) Esse Purse Museum
The Esse Purse Museum has the distinction of being the only purse museum in the United States. Unless you count the purse museum I keep in my bottom drawer…which is not open to the public. The Esse Purse Museum, one of the coolest Little Rock attractions, is the brainchild of one Anita Davis, and it consists entirely of her personal collection of purses. By going through the Permanent Collection, entitled “A Century of Women and Handbags”, you can clearly see how women’s lives and roles changed dramatically in the 20th century, just by looking at their purses!
Here’s what a patriotic lady would have kept in her purse during the 1940s. Note the War Ration Book.
And here’s what a groovy gal of the 60s might have sported. Certainly no respectable lady I know leaves home without her Tom Wolfe novel.
Now we are definitely at the most recent purses. Every woman needs her condoms, her Blockbuster Video card, and her massive cell phone. That’s just science.
All joking aside, this museum is amazing, not least for proving that women’s objects are just as worthy of historical analysis as men’s. And also for reminding me what a Blockbuster card looks like.
3) Loblolly Creamery
I very cleverly did not ask you to get dessert at the Root Cafe, so we would have an excuse to visit the Loblolly Creamery. If you’re visiting Arkansas any time between April and November, it will be perfect ice cream weather.
Like The Root Cafe, Loblolly Creamery supports Arkansas farmers and producers. Given what a rural state Arkansas still is, the more businesses that support farmers and producers, the better for everyone! Farmers get paid, and the rest of us get delicious ice cream. I recommend the strawberry buttermilk, which is a flawless combination of sweet and tangy. (Just like me!) Also buttermilk is one of those tastes that instantly evokes the South for me.
4) Old State House Museum
Like another mid-sized Southern capital, Jackson, Mississippi, Little Rock has a current capitol building and an old capitol building. And just like with Jackson, the old capitol building has been turned into one of the most interesting Little Rock attractions. The Old State House Museum is free to visit and will teach you about the history of Little Rock as a state capital.
Arguably the most important historic event that took place in the Old State House was when Arkansas decided to secede from the Union in 1861. I was surprised to learn that Little Rock was captured fairly early in the war, in 1863, and a Unionist named Isaac Murphy was elected Governor of Arkansas. I would have thought Arkansas would have been harder for the Union Army to capture because it’s so far from DC.
Even more surprising to me was the story of the Brooks-Baxter War, perhaps the most bizarre and obscure war in US history. This was an actual armed conflict between Joseph Brooks and Elisha Baxter over which one of them would get to be governor of Arkansas. Who would go to war over getting to be governor of any state? It is NOT that good a job. People are very strange, doing things like teaching pigs to bark, starting purse museums, and going to war over who gets to control the price of Arkansas car licenses.
5) Heifer International
From the ridiculous to the sublime, I bring you Heifer International. This organization is dedicated to helping end hunger on a global scale. They conduct many activities worldwide, from helping farmers learn sustainable agricultural practices to empowering female entrepreneurs.
It’s free to visit Heifer Village in Little Rock and learn about what the organization is doing to fight hunger. I appreciated the opportunity to experience something that’s not a typical tourist activity. Also, if you’re traveling with kids, the hands-on activities at Heifer Village would definitely appeal to them. And if you’re just a very shallow person, the fair trade store at Heifer Village has some fab shopping opportunities. They’ve got everything from organic chocolate to earrings made out of recycled trash to journals made from elephant poop. You won’t even have to think about how you’re helping someone earn a livable wage, if you don’t want to. No judgement here, Internet Stranger!
24 Hours: Little Rock Attractions
Evening: Flying Fish
For me, a perfect evening in Little Rock would start with an early dinner at the Flying Fish. My mother is from New Orleans, so I was real excited to find a place in Little Rock that serves New Orleans style seafood po’boy sandwiches. Even luckier, it was crawfish season (springtime), so that meant I could feast on a fried crawfish po’boy. (Po’boys are sandwiches on a special kind of fluffy baguette.)
Fried crawfish served with a side of French fries and another side of hushpuppies (aka fried cornmeal balls)? That’s proper Southern eating to me!
Chase your fried dinner with a Southern dessert classic, banana pudding. I personally never turn up my nose at any kind of banana pudding, but this was the good stuff because it was made with real bananas. Banana pudding is basically exactly what it sounds like. Just make sure to not leave out the crumbled up vanilla wafers. They’re as essential an ingredient to the pudding as the banana, only Banana And Vanilla Wafer Pudding doesn’t sound as good.
24 Hour Treasure: Arkansas River
If the weather’s nice, take a stroll along the Arkansas River and appreciate its miles of natural beauty and public art. You’ll find everything from impromptu concerts to promptu concerts to this statue of a turkey.
His name is Lord Featherwick and I hear he can bark like a dog. Also he once went to war to become Governor of Arkansas, but sadly lost to Mike Huckabee. (One of those ridiculous remarks is actually true.)
That’s 24 Hours: Little Rock Attractions
What do you think are the best Little Rock attractions? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Little Rock? Do you know how to teach a pig how to bark like a dog? And what other obscure wars in American history have I never heard of? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with Little Rock attractions. If you have another 24 hours of Little Rock attractions, add this itinerary!