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Readying the Bates home

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Readying the Bates home

The struggle to preserve civil rights leaders’ house as museum.

It was the de facto command post where nine black students met each school day with the armed guards who would shuttle them to a newly desegregated Central High School. It was where the teen-agers found themselves in the company of black reporters and legends of the civil rights era who stayed with L.C. and Daisy Bates during the 1957 desegregation crisis.

“It was a live house,” said Minnijean Brown Trickey, who remembered Thurgood Marshall’s personal tutorial to the Little Rock Nine about the constitutional crisis at hand. “It was full of role models for young people. … At 16, that was pretty wild.”

Nearly 50 years later, the ranch-style house at 1207 W. 28th St. where L.C. and Daisy Bates, owners of the Arkansas State Press and NAACP leaders, once lived, has weathered violence from the hands of segregationists. It has also survived tornado and termite damage.

As the 50th anniversary of the crisis at Central High School approaches, the group of ministers that owns the home has pledged to prepare the storied home for visitors in time for the commemorative events.

Before Daisy Bates’ death in November 1999, the group — the Christian Ministerial Alliance — with help from local business leaders, assumed Bates’ nearly $70,000 of debt, and in turn received the deed to her home. The ministers made a promise to turn the house into a museum to honor L.C. and Daisy Bates.

In early 2001, a fund-raising effort to repair and renovate the home geared up soon after the site was placed on the National Historic Register. A year later, President Bill Clinton spoke at an event that drew supporters to the home’s front lawn and raised nearly $30,000.

But by the end of 2002, the Ministerial Alliance and its partners, the L.C. and Daisy Bates Museum Foundation, severed ties with a foundation created by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock that had helped plan the fund-raising event. The university, with guidance from the National Park Service, had aided the ministers and was preparing to coordinate an architectural survey on the property.

The ministers said at that time that they wanted more control over the museum’s funds, according to correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the university. The university forwarded the balance of the museum account to the group. The Alliance walked away from a $7,500 grant the university had helped obtain and set off to fund-raise on its own.

Several repairs have been made to the home in the last five years, and Rev. Logan Hampton, vice president of the Alliance, said it is in “good shape.” It is open for informal visits from small tour groups, Hampton said.

Still, a recent architect’s estimate shows that roughly $180,000 is needed to accomplish everything on the museum’s wish list — from the installation of a new security system to the acquisition of period art and furniture.

Rev. Leroy James, the live-in caretaker of the home, told the city’s anniversary commission last year that not all of the work will be complete by September 2007, but said he is optimistic about completion of the museum components in time for 50th anniversary events.

Neither James, nor Rev. Don Gibson, president of the museum foundation, responded to requests for further comment.

“We feel real good about where we are right now,” Hampton said of the museum’s progress. “We own a piece of history, and it is incumbent upon us to preserve that.”

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