National Museum of American History Adds Little Rock Nine Objects

Minnijean Brown Trickey Donates Letters, Year Book, Graduation Dress
January 29, 2016

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has added more than 20 objects to the national collections, including a Little Rock Central High School year book, a graduation dress, a personal letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a notice of suspension and photographs, from Minnijean Brown Trickey, who is known as one of the Little Rock Nine. A selection of these objects will go on view Feb. 8 in the museum’s “American Stories” exhibition. As a 15-year-old girl, Trickey was one of nine African American students who desegregated the Little Rock, Ark., high school in 1957, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional in the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

Objects on view include Trickey’s 1958 suspension notice from Little Rock Central High School, the school’s 50-year commemoration program, her 2012 Soul of Humanity Award bestowed by the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, a copy of Life magazine, a 1958 photo and the white graduation dress she designed along with the accompanying New Lincoln School commencement program. Trickey completed her secondary education at the progressive New York school in Manhattan in 1959 after she was expelled from the Little Rock school in 1958.

When nine African American students arrived at Central High School on the first day of school in 1957, they were met by the Arkansas National Guard, who on the governor’s orders, prevented them from entering. Eisenhower intervened, and the students entered the school Sept. 25, three weeks after the start of the school year.

“These objects tell a rich and significant American education and civil rights story,” said Margaret Salazar-Porzio, a curator in the museum’s home and community life division. “Minnijean’s donation provides texture to the experience of integration and segregation in the American South.”

To thwart desegregation, Little Rock closed its four public high schools from 1958 to 1959 and it was a lost year for most students. Trickey, whose donation includes both a letter of thanks from Eisenhower to her parents in appreciation for her integrating the school and her suspension notice, was subsequently expelled from the high school. She was welcomed into the family of psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark and was able to graduate from New Lincoln School in 1959. Like Trickey, some students had to move in with family or friends to continue their schooling while others joined the military or sought employment without graduating.

Trickey, the eldest of four children of Willie and Imogene Brown, was born Sept. 11, 1941, in Little Rock. Her mother was a homemaker and nurse’s aide, and her father was an independent mason and landscaping contractor. Members of the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Other Little Rock Nine objects in the museum’s education collections, which are housed in the Division of Home and Community Life, include two report cards and a certificate from Terrance Roberts, who was another of the nine students.  

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy, immigration and migration and culture. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.