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The Story of Becoming - Carlotta Walls LaNier and the Afro-American Struggle for Equal Rights in Education

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Front row, left to right: Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta Walls, Mayor Wagner, Thelma Mothershed, Gloria Ray; back row, left to right: Terrance Roberts, Ernest Green, Melba Pattilo, Jefferson Thomas. / Walter, A. (1958). [New York City Mayor Robert Wagner greeting the teenagers who integrated Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas] / World Telegram photo by Walter Albertin.. [image] Available at: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00649862/ [Accessed

Carlotta Walls LaNier grew up in the 20th century as an African-American woman. She grew up not being able to drink from the same water fountain as her white neighbors, sit in the front of the bus, or use the library. Yet, her parents taught her that she was deserving of equality, and she thought she had an actual chance at it when Chief of Justice Earl Warren proclaimed, “We conclude that the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Three years later, she and eight more African American children became students of Little Rock Central High School.

Her uncle had given her mother money to buy Carlotta a dress for the first day of school, and the dress has been donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History. She had no way of knowing how important a part the Little Rock Nine would play in American history… Carlotta was just a teenager who wanted to go her neighborhood high school and get the best education she could. Unfortunately, the first day of school was cut short because the police was unable to hold back a mob trying to hurt the nine teenagers. The angry mob had threatened to hurt them on numerous occasions; the abuse continued, making LaNier well aware of many people who did not want her at Little Rock High School. Having her books knocked out of her hands, being spat on, pushed around and called names made it impossible to forget. She could not hide from those she considered ignorant, and those who attempted to make her feel inferior, they were her classmates.

In 1959, two years after the nine teenagers had enrolled, the school closed down, but a year later, Carlotta came back to become the first African American female to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. To use her words: “I really did want that diploma to validate all the crap that I had gone through.” Walls continued her studies at Michigan State University and graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. Carlotta worked as an administrator for teens in YWCA until 1977 when she founded LaNier and Co., a real estate company. In 1968, she married Ira C. “Ike” LaNier and had two children. Walls received many awards, with the other members of Little Rock Nine, such as the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1958, being inducted into the Colorado Hall of Fame in 2004, and the National Hall of Fame in 2015. 

She was put into the spotlight at 14 and by the time she graduated from Central she had completely shut down. She was not willing to talk about her high school days for quite a while, but eventually she realized that children had forgotten about the nine students who had to be escorted to school by armed forces. This was one of the main reasons she decided to write a memoir about her experiences, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, which was published in 2009.

References:

LaNier, Carlotta Walls, and Lisa Frazier Page. A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. New York: One World/Ballantine, 2009.

“LaNier, Carlotta Walls.” National Women's Hall of Fame, 0AD, www.womenofthehall.org/inductee/carlotta-walls-lanier/.

Keyes, Allison. “The Youngest of the Little Rock Nine Speaks About Holding on to History.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 5 Sept. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/youngest-little-rock-nine-speaks-about-holding-onto-history-180964732/.

civil rights , Carlotta Walls LaNier , AfroAmerican culture , equal rights , education ,

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