The organizers of events surrounding the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School announced today that Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the commemoration ceremony at Central on Sept. 25.
Registration for the event is free, but seating is limited. The ceremony will be held in the high school’s Roosevelt Thompson Auditorium.
Clinton also spoke at the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock school crisis, in 2007. His remarks from that ceremony are worth reading, if for no other reason than to marvel at how distant 2007 seems from the current moment. An excerpt:
[W]hat we really should be thinking about is 50 years from now. Unless human genetics goes plumb haywire, I won’t be here and they won’t either, but a lot of you will. What do you wish the story of the next 50 years to be? If we were to act on our convictions and our obligation to the sacrifice and the courage and the effort that all those we have celebrate today have made, what would the story of the first half of the 21st century be?
Well, first, I believe it should be that access is not the same as equal opportunity, and equal opportunity is not the same as excellence. Every problem in American education has been solved by somebody somewhere. I’ve been saying this for 25 years. We have still, more than 20 years after the first Nation at Risk report was issued, not solved the fundamental challenge of American education, which is how to replicate excellence. Every single student in America, without regard to color or income or background, deserves that.
There were years when I was governor when Central High School produce 25 percent of all the Merit Scholars in Arkansas — one high school. And I can tell you about schools elsewhere; the Frederick Douglass Academy near my office in Harlem has 98 percent of its kids graduate, 90 percent go on to college, and they score higher than the New York state average on the Regents Exam. They are mostly lower income kids. Why? Because they have an atmosphere of excellence. Nobody believes that he or she cannot learn. There is a commitment to that. Why can’t we replicate that?
Here’s the full announcement from the 60th anniversary organizers:
LITTLE ROCK (Aug. 30, 2017) – President Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote address during the Sept. 25 Central High Integration 60th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony, officials announced today. The ceremony will take place in the Roosevelt Thompson Auditorium at Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton has a long history with the Little Rock Nine, the first black students to attend Little Rock Central High School. In 1987, he hosted them at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion when they all gathered in Little Rock for the first time since the 1957-1958 school year. He was a keynote speaker at the 40th and 50th anniversary commemoration activities. In November 1998, he signed legislation that designated Little Rock Central High as a National Historic Site. The next year, he presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States, in a ceremony at the White House.
Little Rock City Manager Bruce T. Moore who serves as the chairman of the steering committee that’s been planning the commemorative events said “We’ve been working hard for the past year and I’m excited that President Clinton will be able to join us as the keynote speaker for the Commemoration Ceremony to honor these living treasures.” Little Rock Central High School is recognized for the role it played in the integration of public schools in the United States. Following the 1954 Brown v. Board decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Central High became an international focal point as nine African American students sought to enroll in the formerly all-white school. On September 25, 1957, under the protection of members of the 101st Airborne, as sent in by President Dwight Eisenhower, the Little Rock Nine entered into Central High School.