The National Parks are not just spectacular landscapes, historic battlefields or iconic monuments. They are also episodes embedded in the American collective consciousness, many of which tell some of the darkest, yet most important parts of our history. The stories these places tell and the gravity of their importance are not all well known, but by understanding and recognizing the lessons they teach us, the connections they have to contemporary issues of civil rights can lead to the awareness necessary for solutions so America’s past prejudices and civil injustices are not perpetuated.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas is the only National Park that specifically interprets the history of a Supreme Court Case, one that is among the most important decisions ever rendered by the highest court of the United States.


“The Brown decision was both a legal and a social inflection point for the country-by ending segregation in public schools, it provided fuel for the civil rights movement to confront segregation in other facets of public life. Topeka helped advance the notion that it was not merely enough to provide the same facilities to students of different races, but that the act of segregation itself denied African American students of the equal protection under law guaranteed by the 14th amendment of the constitution,” said Stephanie Kyriazis, chief of Interpretation, Education and Cultural Resources of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. “When one reflects on some of the most intense domestic news stories of the past year-the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, it’s clear that our nation is still grappling with issues of race dynamics, from inequitable treatment in law enforcement to de facto segregation in many public schools and neighborhoods. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site serves as a safe space to reflect on and discuss the historic currents that carried us to where we are today, and hopefully illuminates some positive routes into the future.”

After the ruling in the case declared that segregation of schools was unconstitutional, 9 black students volunteered to integrate Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The students were blocked from entering the school by angry protesters and the Arkansas National Guard under order of Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus. President Eisenhower superseded the authority of the governor and the students entered the school under military supervision the next day. The Little Rock 9 were subjugated to constant harassment and threats while Governor Faubus continued to try to delay integration through legislative measures. The high school, now Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, tells the story of one of the greatest obstacles to desegregation overcome in United States History.

“I passed that school everyday before I elected to attend,” recalls Carlotta Lanier, the youngest student of the Little Rock 9. “ I wanted to be able to apply to top colleges all over the country and it was one of the top 40 high schools in the country. Who wouldn’t want to go to that school? It was my given right within the law to go. The more I was antagonized, the more determined I became to stay there. I refused to let them win. Sure, they took the fun away from school, and I always loved school, but I did my best to ignore the ignorance. If we had not been successful, it would have been much more difficult for other school districts throughout the South to desegregate. Today, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is a teaching tool for lessons from this piece of history we should all know about.”

“I didn’t understand the significance of my Mom’s experience growing up” said Spirit Trickey, daughter of Little Rock 9 student Minnijean Brown-Trickey. “My first visit to the site was for the 40th Anniversary celebration in 1997. The experience blew my mind. I was 17 years old failing math and my mother was changing the World at the same age.” Spirit worked as a park ranger at the site for ten years. “Working at the site was basically a ten year long conversation with all of the people that were involved with the event. It gave me a profound appreciation for the immeasurable magnitude of this American story that belongs to all of us and an unprecedented insight into the poignant nature of racisms that still continue today.”

A national conscience engagement forum is being held at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site on November 20-22nd, 2015. Superintendent of the site, Robin White is helping to organize the forum to address contemporary systematic social issues.

“The National Park Service is a tool I use to make the World a better place as a public servant responsible for one of American history’s greatest stories of the struggle in pursuing an equal education,” White said.  “We have a right to be here, as we are, whoever we are. We are still on the battlefield for civil rights in 2015. The courage and sheer determination of the Little Rock 9 helped changed American minds and the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site now provides a forum for conscious engagement in turning civil wrongs into civil rights.”

Sainato is a freelance journalist.