History lingers heavily in some corners of Little Rock, but nowhere does it bear so much weight as at Central High School, where nine courageous students — just children, really — endured what can only be described as a daily hell to help force open the gates of equality. The National Parks Service honors their sacrifice and bravery at the Central High School National Historic Site Visitor's Center, a spic-and-span, state-of-the-art facility featuring displays, filmed interviews with the Little Rock Nine, stirring quotes on the walls, artifacts from those confusing days and more. Definitely a must-do, even if you've lived in Little Rock your whole life.
The premier community garden in Little Rock, this two-acre plot adjacent to Gibbs Magnet School serves as an outdoor classroom of sorts for elementary students, who learn about everything from worm composting (a box holds thousands of Red Wigglers) to windpower (the garden has a windmill that generates electricity). Grown folks are welcome to stop by for gardening advice or to buy some free-range eggs or produce.
Post-Katrina, this neighborhood grocery started carrying New Orleans essentials — Leidenheimer French Bread, Camellia Brand beans, sausages of all varieties. Pick up all that, a ham hock at the meat counter and a Mexican Coke from the cooler, and you've got the makings of a feast. There's a nice vegetable selection and a lunch counter, where you can grab fried catfish, fried chicken, burgers and the like to-go.
Garbo and Archie Hearne decided a couple of years ago to build a gallery of fine art, a bookstore and a clinic at 1001 Wright Ave., in a neighborhood closer to people they wanted to reach both for cultural and health reasons. Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing and Hearne Fine Art, formerly in the River Market district, is the only business in Arkansas to focus exclusively on African-American authors and artists. There are book-related events every Saturday, as well as other regular activities for all ages. Hearne Fine Art shows works by artists of national renown, works with the school district to involve high school students in art-related events and is a regular participant in the 2nd Friday Art Night after-hours gallery walk.
Though Centennial Park might best be known as a hangout for the Wolfe Street Crips in the 1994 HBO documentary "Bangin' in Little Rock," the neighborhood has calmed quite a bit these days, and the massive stone tower and steps at the center of the park are definitely worth a look for fans of Little Rock history. The tower is all that remains of Centennial Elementary School, an impressive stone pile designed by Little Rock architect Thomas Harding. Completed in 1894, the school encompassed almost a whole city block, with the tower seen today being only the lowest floor of what was once a 120 foot-high spire capped with a school bell. The school was demolished in 1971, but the stone entryway and steps were left standing to serve as the centerpiece for Centennial Park. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.
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