Clinton Digital Library

"What Happened Here"

Twenty years ago, in 1997, President Clinton returned to his home state of Arkansas to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School. These speech remarks reflected on the events of September 1957, President Clinton's recollection of these events as a child living in Arkansas, and the promise of a colorblind society achieved through reconciliation.

Little Rock Central High School Speech Preparation

Photo of President Clinton working on his speech in the holding room at Little Rock Central High for the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Central High.

Speech Preparation

The staff and office files of Michael Waldman and June Shih contain the drafts from this commemoration. Like any other speech, President Clinton’s remarks went through several revisions during and after meetings with his speechwriting staff. Here you can see the evolution of the speech through various drafts and annotations, including comments in the President’s handwriting.

Notes from a session in the "Bill Clinton" offices in Little Rock

Notes from a group speech preparation meeting for the Central High Commemoration that included President Clinton, speechwriting staff, and "Black Leaders."

Paragraphs From Speech Prep Session

An outline of speech preparation from the Central High Anniversary.

Lift Every Voice and Sing (Lyrics)

June Shih's Central High speech preparation files included the lyrics to "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Shih referenced the song in drafts of the speech.

Address at Little Rock Central High School [Draft 9/23/97 1 pm]

Shih's files contain multiple drafts of the remarks for the Central High Ceremony. This draft is dated 9/23/1997, 1 PM.

Address at Little Rock Central High School [Draft 9/24/97 8:30 AM]

This draft is dated 9/24/1997, 8:30 AM.

Address at Little Rock Central High School [Draft 9/24/97 8:30]

This draft is dated 9/24/97, 8:30 AM, however, this draft holds handwritten revisions made by President Clinton on September 25th.

Address at Little Rock Central High School [Draft 9/25/97 8:00 AM]

This draft is dated 9/25/97 8:00 AM.

Delivered Remarks

40th Anniv. of Desegregation of Little Rock Central High (1997)

Video footage of President Clinton delivering the commemoration remarks on the steps of Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1997.

Address at Little Rock Central High School

This draft is dated 9/25/97, 8:00 AM. This draft holds handwritten revisions made by President Clinton. The revisions include a list of individuals in attendance who were acknowledged by the President.

Corrected Transcript of Remarks by the President in Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation of Central High School

Transcript of remarks with handwritten corrections.

Remarks by the President In Ceremony Commemorating the Desegregation of Central High School

Official transcript of remarks.