by Sally Goldman, Little Rock Central High School NHS
Spring is here, and we have started our bimonthly Civil Rights bike tours! The tour is 7.4 miles long and takes participants throughout various sites significant to the 1957 desegregation crisis.
We are offering the tours as part of the Iron Ranger Challenge, a 100 mile challenge created by the seven National Parks in Arkansas as a way to commemorate the Centennial.
Since we are low on staff, I am the only one giving the tours, though we had a bike safety training for volunteers who will eventually take over giving the tours once my internship ends.
My favorite part about the tours (minus getting to be on a bike) is all of the research that I had to do. It took weeks of reading and listening to old interviews and documentaries, and while I feel very comfortable with interpreting the subject matter, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to all of the research material available.
Our normal walking tours of the high school focus heavily on the day-to-day experiences of the Little Rock Nine, something I had already done tons of research on. The bike tour, however, zooms out. Participants learn more about the complex players in the story that are often skimmed over in the regular walking tour, like Daisy Bates, and Governor Orval Faubus. It tells the story of the complex legal battle that stretched from 1956 and ended in 1959 with the Supreme Court calling its third special session in history to tell Little Rock that it must proceed with its integration plan (Aaron v. Cooper, which eventually became Cooper v. Aaron). This is one of the hardest parts of the tour to interpret because it required a lot of difficult (and sometimes boring) research which then had to be translated into something easy for the public to understand and find meaningful.
Researching the tour has made me develop a new respect for Little Rock’s rich civil rights history and for interpreters who work so hard to create quality programs for the public.