Museum to commemorate 'Little Rock Nine'

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Every day before heading to Little Rock Central High School in the fall of 1957, nine black students gathered at Daisy and L.C. Bates’s home to prepare for the angry mob they faced as they integrated the all-white school.

“It was kind of like a war room in a sense,” said Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the black students commonly known as the Little Rock Nine. “It was a place that we gathered and got ready to go to school and where we would come back to. It was a place of nurturing and a place of debriefing where we could at least have a laugh or two from that day.”

The small tan brick home in south Little Rock is easy to miss, with a plaque in the front yard marking it as a national historic site. But a nonprofit hopes to change that by eventually opening the house, visited by civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr.. and Thurgood Marshall, as a museum.

The L.C. and Daisy Bates Museum Foundation Inc. and the Christian Ministerial Alliance, which owns the house, has made $75,000 in repairs and hope to promote the site as a complement to a museum about the desegregation crisis located near Central High School. Foundation workers want to eventually offer regular tours.

Without the house, “there would not have been an integration process. All of that originated with the Bates and in that home,” said Dale Charles, head of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001, the Bates home has been the focus of local preservationists who wanted it restored in time for the 50th anniversary of Central High’s desegregation in 2007. But supporters said they fell short on funding.

Daisy Bates, who died in 1999, served as a mentor to the black students who integrated the school. In 2001, then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signed legislation making the third Monday in February a holiday to honor Bates.

The Bates civil rights efforts began years before they opened their home to the students. They founded the Arkansas State Press in 1941, and turned the weekly newspaper into a leading voice of the civil rights movement in Little Rock. The paper closed in 1959 when it lost advertisers who said they were being pressured by segregationists. It reopened in the mid-1980s under new ownership.

Over the past three years, the museum foundation repaired the Bates home roof and restored its interior to mirror what architects believe it looked like in 1957. They tracked down replicas of furniture from the 1950s to match items that were found in archival photos of the Bates home, said the project’s restoration architect Kwendeche.

“That was her dream. She wanted her home to someday become a museum,” Kwendeche said.

AT&T donated $75,000 in late 2006, and museum foundation officials want to raise another $80,000 to add exhibits and renovate the basement.

Kwendeche said he hoped to recreate a ceramics studio that Daisy Bates kept in the basement and offer a video exhibit that would teach visitors about her and her husband’s role in the Central High School desegregation.

Foundation President Silas Redd said the group hoped to eventually hire a full-time staffer to keep the house regularly open as a museum for visitors.

“It will give people the opportunity to reflect on the life of two particular persons because this is known as the national historical landmark and to lift up L.C. and Daisy Bates, who have made a contribution to human dignity and justice to all mankind,” Redd said.

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