Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act
STATEMENT OF ROBERT VOGEL, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 1202, TO MODIFY THE BOUNDARY OF LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
July 19, 2017
Chairman Daines, Ranking Member Hirono, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1202, a bill to modify the boundary of Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas, and for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of this bill.
S. 1202 would amend Public Law 105-356, which established Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site by modifying the park’s boundary and expanding the park’s authority to enter into cooperative agreements. The proposed boundary modification, which is consistent with the park’s General Management Plan (2002), would include seven privately owned residences on South Park Street, consisting of 1.47 acres, within the boundary of the national historic site. The cooperative agreement authority provided by the bill would allow the National Park Service (NPS) to give financial and technical aid to the property owners within the area added to the boundary to preserve the facades and maintain the ambience of the 1957 historic scene. NPS’ ability to provide financial and or technical assistance is subject to the availability of appropriations and must be balanced with other competing priorities. The NPS has no plans to purchase these properties. Thus, S.1202 would help preserve the historic scene without adding any new structures to the NPS asset inventory and would not add to the NPS deferred maintenance backlog.
Little Rock Central High School and the surrounding neighborhood stand as a testament to the effort to end racially segregated public schools in the United States. The area provided the setting for one of the most prominent examples of brave individuals who struggled to implement the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The admission of nine black students to Central High School in 1957 drew national and international attention, and was the first fundamental test of the nation’s resolve to enforce black civil rights in the face of significant public defiance.
In recognition of the importance of Central High School in the history of the United States, the site was designated by the Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark in 1982, and in 1998, it was established by Congress as Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System to be administered by the NPS in partnership with Little Rock School District and the City of Little Rock. In 1996, the surrounding neighborhood, including seven privately owned houses on the east side of South Park Street, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Central High School Neighborhood Historic District. The designation recognized the neighborhood’s association with the significant events of 1957 and the architectural characteristics and qualities that remain relatively unchanged from that period.
Images of the South Park Street properties are inextricably associated with the 1957 events. As images of the Little Rock Nine, crowds of protestors, public, and National Guardsmen appeared in newspapers across the nation and were broadcast live through the emerging media of television, the neighborhood became as recognizable as the high school itself. Because South Park Street in front of Central High School retains a high degree of historical integrity, this legislation would provide a unique opportunity to preserve a setting that will allow visitors to more accurately visualize the events that occurred there in 1957 when the Little Rock Nine attempted to attend Central High School.
This bill would authorize the National Park Service to enter into cooperative agreements with private property owners of the South Street properties. This authority would allow the NPS to use the park’s operational funds to mark, interpret, improve, restore, and provide technical assistance for the preservation and interpretation of the properties. It would also allow the NPS to assist the homeowners in applying for federal grants. The cooperative agreements would include a provision specifying that no changes or alterations shall be made to the exterior of the properties, except by mutual agreement, in order preserve the historic character of the properties.
All the property owners and several community members have expressed their support for this proposal, including the Central High Neighborhood, Inc., and Preserve Arkansas.
Chairman Daines, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.