Adapted for young readers, Carlotta Walls LaNier’s ‘A Mighty Long Way’ shows why we still fight

Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, shares her memories, the necessity for a young readers' adaption of her memoir, and more.

In 1957, Carlotta Walls LaNier felt one emotion during the days leading up to her first day at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas: excitement. 

It was a brief three years after the historic Brown v. the Board of Education case, and LaNier, along with eight other Black students —  Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals — would be the first to integrate the all-white school. The then 14-year-old had no idea she was embarking on a journey with a group of kids who would eventually become known as the Little Rock Nine, and that they would change education for Black students for generations to come.  

Carlotta Walls LaNier, Little Rock Nine, Brown v. Board of Education, A Mighty Long Way, civil rights, Black history, school segregation, education,
Carlotta Walls LaNier, recipient of the 2022 Women+Film Impact Award, attends the Women+Film Awards Luncheon at The Denver Art Museum on May 13, 2022, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Tom Cooper/Getty Images); Cover Images: Penguin Random House

There were certain things LaNier did know before beginning classes. For example, she knew she would be assigned a guard to escort her around, and that the Black students wouldn’t be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. But nothing could have prepared her fully for everything she would experience during her matriculation. 

“I got up every morning and got ready to go to school, not knowing what was going to take place that day,” LaNier told theGrio in a recent interview. “I had a guard that escorted me in and took me from one class to another, but even with that [guard] being there, [it] did not deter some of the thugs or terrorist type or bullying type things that did take place.”

Throughout LaNier’s years in high school, the scariest moment she recalls was at the close of that first day on September 23, 1957, when the group was escorted out of the school by police officers. A crowd of rioters outside the school had grown to over a thousand, with students jumping out of windows because the group had been allowed into the school. Split between two police cars, the Little Rock Nine hid under blankets, waiting to leave. For LaNier, the realization of the danger and severity of the situation was driven home when one of the officers told her car’s driver to “put [his] foot to the floor and don’t stop for anything.” 

“It did take all the fun out of going to high school, but I was determined to complete my year,” LaNier said. “I’m sure at the end of the day, if I had wanted to leave, my parents would have been in agreement with that. But, overall, I was one of those that once I start something, I finish it.”

She did exactly what she set her mind to do. In 1960, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine became the first Black woman to walk across the stage and receive a diploma. LaNier said the diploma “validated everything that [she] had been through.”

For years after graduation, LaNier avoided speaking about her experiences at Little Rock Central High School. She wanted people to understand there was more to her than being a member of the Little Rock Nine. It wasn’t until she met up with the group 30 years later that she began to speak publicly about what happened to her. Having become a mother by that time, she also felt it necessary to teach her children this crucial piece of American history through her personal experiences. 

In 2009, she released “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School,” a memoir chronicling her high school years. It was the first time LaNier publicly revealed everything in detail. In 2023, just ahead of Black History Month, the book was rereleased as an adaptation for young readers. 

“I just thought it would be great if it could be adapted for young readers; for them to understand the history [of] why they’re sitting in a classroom with other people who do not look like them,” LaNier told theGrio. “History is very important; if you don’t know your history, how do you know [how] to make that path towards the future?” 

Amid the current backlash against critical race theory, the increased banning of books, and the strategic removal of not only Black and Indigenous history but even the arts from school curriculums, LaNier expressed concern for the future of education. A former president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which works to ensure equal access to education for African American students, she believes those classes help create a well-rounded individual and are, therefore, extremely important in the educational process. 

LaNier advises the next generation of changemakers to access all the education they possibly can in their field of choice — and become certified in what they love to do. She wants today’s young people to get all the education they need, follow their passions, and succeed in their chosen industries. She also implores younger generations to exercise the right to vote.

“As a citizen of the United States, I want to see any and everyone be able to have the opportunity to voice their opinion, and voice it through the vote,” she said. “Don’t take it lightly.”

Given the opportunity to go back in time, LaNier said she would still sign the dotted line and commit to attending Little Rock Central High School. With certainty, she affirmed she wouldn’t change a single thing.

A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page, is now available for young readers.

Kayla Grant

Kayla Grant is a multimedia journalist with bylines in Business Insider, Shondaland, Oz Magazine, Prism, Rolling Out and more. She writes about culture, books and entertainment news. Follow her on Twitter: @TheKaylaGrant  

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