LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Department of the Army, Sept. 24, 2007) -- Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), escorted the "Little Rock Nine" to and from the stage here, today, during the Little Rock High School National Historic Site Visitor Center Dedication Ceremony.The nine Soldiers were hand picked by their battalion and brigade senior enlisted advisers, to take part in the event, which was held 50 years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent more than 11,500 101st Airborne Division Soldiers to Little Rock to ensure the safety of nine black students who wished to attend the then-all white Little Rock Central High School.Black students Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls, who ranged in age from 15 to 17 at the time, decided to attend the school after the implementation of the May 17, 1954, Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.
Visitors to the center can learn how then-Governor Orval Faubus announced that Arkansas National Guard troops would be used to prevent nine black students from entering the school, and how President Eisenhower eventually had to call on the 101st Airborne Division to deploy Soldiers to truly keep the peace, by escorting the black students to and from classes every day.Little Rock Central High School still functions as part of the Little Rock School District, and is now a National Historic Site that houses a Civil Rights Museum, administered in partnership with the National Park Service. The new visitor center has photos and multimedia presentations that detail the events of the day, and those leading up to the 1957 school year, at Central High School.At the end of her remarks, Little Rock Nine member Elizabeth Eckford thanked the Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division for their efforts.The nine honor escorts taking part in the ceremony were: Pvt. Antonio Coley, Spc. Tyeshia Edwards, Spc. James Johnson, Pvt. Michael Roach, Sgt. Kimberly Smith, Spc. Jeffrey Stevenson, Sgt. Michael Tracy, Pfc. Colby Wray and Sgt. Brandi Wyatt. Sgt. 1st Class Carolyn Williams was in charge of the detail.