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Walking in the footsteps of the 'Little Rock Nine'

Note: A team from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire joins the 2015 winter Civil Rights Pilgrimage to document students' experiences and stories on the 10-day journey through history. Writer Shari Lau, videographer Glen Mabie and photographer Heidi Giacalone will provide daily updates from the pilgrimage, highlighting the historic sites and people who fought for equality during the civil rights movement.

All stories from the winter 2015 Civil Rights Pilgrimage can be read on the UW-Eau Claire news website

Jan. 17, 2015

In 1927, Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, was named "America's Most Beautiful High School" by the American Institute of Architects. In 1957, however, the beautiful structure and grounds became home to one of the ugliest moments in civil rights history. 

In opposition to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ordering the integration of public schools, nine African-American high school students were forcibly denied entrance to Little Rock Central High School on Sept. 4, 1957. One hundred and fifty white protesters armed with guns, bats, tire irons and other weapons joined members of the Arkansas National Guard in the attempt to prevent integration in public schools. It took 21 days and the presence of federal troops sent to the school by President Dwight D. Eisenhower before the students were able to attend their first full day of classes.

As a history major, UW-Eau Claire senior Khong Meng Her, from Eau Claire, knew about the events that occurred at Little Rock Central High School, but being in the place where it happened made it become real, he said.

"It feels amazing to be here," Her said. "I feel like I'm reliving history. I'm trying to picture myself here during that time, seeing everyone protesting and the nine students walking through that school. It's incredible to be walking in their steps."

The people and places visited on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage has inspired Her to stand up for what he believes in just as the "Little Rock Nine" stood up for what they believed in.

"I feel the next step is to go back to Eau Claire, get involved and fight for what I believe in and make change," Her said. "I also want to help fellow students push forward for what they are fighting for."

Sunday, the last day of the pilgrimage, students will travel to Memphis, Tennessee, to visit the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum and the National Civil Rights Museum, which is built around the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.