The concrete base of a popular memorial at the Arkansas State Capitol in honor of the nine black students famous for integrating Little Rock Central High School is literally falling apart, a top official with the Secretary of State’s office said Thursday.
Kelly Boyd, chief deputy with Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office, told members of the State Capitol Arts and Ground Commission panel that nearly $8,000 will be spent to repair the memorial, one of the most visited memorials on the State Capitol grounds.
“I meant to bring a piece of the concrete, but for lack of a better word, it is falling apart,” Boyd said of the foundation for the Little Rock Nine Memorial. “The top of it is just coming up in pieces.”
According to state tourism officials, Little Rock Central High School, where the Little Rock Nine made history desegregating the school in 1957, is one of the most visited Little Rock landmarks. Nearly 126,000 people toured the site in 2015.
The Capitol grounds monument that captures the 1957 event, which is widely recognized as a key event in the nation’s civil rights movement, was dedicated in August 2005 to honor the courage of those black students, known collectively as the Little Rock Nine.
Those Central High students – Melba Pattillo, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray, Carlotta Walls, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown and Thelma Mothershed — are now captured in striking, life-size bronze statuettes directly north of the State Capitol building off West Third Street.
According to a Secretary of State office’s brochure called “A Walk On the Hill,” quotations from each of the Nine are featured around the bronze figures, which are the work of Little Rock artist John Deering, who was assisted by his wife Cathy.
Boyd said the nine concrete statues are built atop concrete piers that serve as the foundation of the memorial. The repair work will remove the crumbling foundation at the feet of the statues and replace it with a new, more stable foundation.
“We will take all of the concrete out and the figures will still be standing and we will protect (them). We are bringing in the original designer of the monument and will work with them and rebuild that base back up correctly and make it like it is supposed to be,” Boyd said of Deering.
The deputy chief for the Secretary of State’s office said the original surface of the Little Rock Nine memorial was intended to depict a gravel or dirt road. The company contracted to do the work is capable of designing the foundation as it was first envisioned, Boyd said.
“We are going to look at it and see if that’s what we want to do,” he said.
In the discussion of the repair work of Little Rock Nine monument, some commissioners questioned why the foundation needed repairs only 12 years after it was dedicated. Boyd said when the heavily-visited monument was completed, some lawmakers complained that it was not properly aligned with the State Capitol building.
Kane Webb, director of the state Department of Parks and Tourism and a member of the seven-person commission, said the Little Rock Nine memorial is a very popular site for out-of-state travelers that visit the capitol grounds.
“This monument is visited as much as any we’ve got,” Webb said. Boyd added, “You will not believe how many people have selfies, photographs and group (pictures) at the site. It is heavily trafficked.”
Annie Abrams, local civic leader and community activist, said she hopes monument repairs at the memorial are completed in time for the city’s 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine in September. She said eight of the students will attend many of the activities held in the fall, except for Thomas who died in 2010.
In other business, Boyd told the Capitol grounds maintenance panel that about $4,000 in repair work is also needed on the War of 1812 memorial and a site dedicated to a former penitentiary that was located near the Capitol grounds.
Today, there are 23 monuments located on the Capitol grounds, with tentative monument sites assigned to the Satanic Temple, the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society and the Gold Star Families Foundation. The commission on Thursday approved plans for a controversial Ten Commandments monument that will start construction and installation in early June.