On February 24th, Carlotta Walls LaNier, author of the memoir A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School spoke to students and NBA fans at the NBA Store in New York City as part of a special Black History Month celebration.
Carlotta Walls LaNier is living history. Although her name is not one that most people would automatically recognize, this pioneer played in important role in one of the most important events of the Civil Rights movement. Almost fifty-three years ago at the age of fourteen, LaNier along with eight other students caused a stir in Little Rock and the United States when they exercised their right as American citizens to go to school where they wanted regardless of the color of their skin. These students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were a group of African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957 much to the chagrin of the many members of their hometown community. The group was initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus and the Arkansas National Guard until President Eisenhower and United States Army intervened and escorted the high school students into the pages of history.
LaNier along with the rest of the Little Rock Nine was first unconstitutionally turned away from Little Rock Central High School on September 4th, 1957. “There were unfounded fears based on color.” LaNier explains. On September 25th, after weeks of unruly mobs and failed attempts to enter the school the students were finally ushered into Little Rock Central High School to get the education they were entitled to. The conscientious LaNier, the youngest of the nine, couldn’t wait to begin her studies. “I felt relieved at that time that we were finally in school because I had missed three weeks of school and I was concerned how far behind I might be. I had that concern more than anything else.”
The mobs continued in the days that followed, but eventually the loud protests subsided enough for the group of precedent setting young people to continue with their education. During LaNier’s time at Central High School she concentrated fiercely on her schoolwork. “I was in the Honor Society at the all black junior high school and when I got to Central I also made Honor Roll.” She didn’t have close friends at her new school and only shared a few short conversations about school assignments with her classmates. “The “friends” part was a little difficult.” she recalled. If a fellow student showed any interest in being her friend, they were met with the same bullying and mean spirit that the “Little Rock Nine” were met with.
LaNier received her diploma from Central High School in 1960, eventually graduating from Colorado State College, now the University of Northern Colorado. She has been a successful real estate broker for over 30 years and in 2009 published her first book A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, which is a memoir about her experiences during The Little Rock Crisis of 1957.
With her new memoir, the humble LaNier is continuing to spread the news that everyone, regardless of race wants the same things from life and is hopeful that we are on our way to “colorblind” society. In keeping with her mission, she recently met with a group of students from Fred W. Martin Middle School in Jersey City and NBA fans at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue in New York City as part of a special NBA Cares Black History Month celebration. During her time with the students, teachers and basketball fans she answered questions about her experiences as one of the “Little Rock Nine” and read excerpts from her recently released book. “The kids were very touched by the entire story”, explains Sherry Lynn Fazio, Senior Director Of External Affairs at Jersey Cares who helped put together the event with NBA Cares. Fazio was thrilled with the students’ reaction to the Civil Rights icon and was struck that all of the middle school students were mostly interested in one aspect of LaNier’s story, how it felt to enter the school. “We have done a lot of work with their school with many different activities and I have never seen them so moved.” Another memorable moment for Fazio was when one of the teachers stood up at the end of the event and expressed what an honor it was to meet LaNier in person.
In the decades since LaNier proudly took a stand it would seem she has answered almost every question imaginable about the events of the fall of 1957, however, there is one important thing she feels gets left out in the Civil Rights narrative. It is a thought she wants everyone to fully understand. “I would really like for people to know that the real heroes and she-roes during this time were our parents and I don’t think that they got the accolades they deserved.”