In September 1957, nine African American teenagers met fierce opposition by local mobs as they attempted to start the schoolyear at the all-white Central High School. Eventually President Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops to quell the violence and to escort the students into the school. This incident became the first real test of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Brown v. Board of Education, which had ruled a few years earlier that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
The National Park Service commemorated the historic role that this site played when it named the high school a National Historic Landmark in 1982. NPS also operates a nearby visitor center that interprets the historic civil rights events that landed the school in the national limelight. Central High continues to operate as a functional high school today, the only one located within the boundary of a national historic site.