Author discusses race relations in 2009 book
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
9/21/10 at 7:02 AM
The title of Carlotta Walls LaNier's 2009 book summarizes her perspective on more than 50 years of race relations in the United States.
As the book's name - "A Mighty Long Way" - suggests, LaNier and the rest of the country have traveled a long road since the September day in 1957 when she and eight others became the first black students at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
"We have come a mighty long way," she said. "There have been a number of accomplishments. We have moved the needle."
Also as the name suggests, there is a "but" to the story.
"The question was asked of me, 'Are we in a post-racial society?' " she said from her home in Colorado. "The answer is we are not."
There's still a ways to go, she said, and a lot to remember.
"I think this is a time in history that people need to know about," said LaNier, who will speak Saturday during the 2010 Celebration of Books at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.
"As I started to speak to people, I found a lot of them did not know."
LaNier was the youngest of the Little Rock Nine, a 14-year-old sophomore who wanted to go to the previously all-white Central High School because she thought it would improve her college opportunities.
LaNier says she didn't realize how much controversy would result.
Something close to a riot occurred on the first day, and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus later used the National Guard to keep the black students from school.
Eventually, President Dwight Eisenhower sent elements of the 101st Airborne Division to escort the nine to class.
In August 1958, Faubus and the Arkansas Legislature contrived to close the Little Rock Public Schools and lease the buildings back to a segregationist organization.
Black children were sent out of state, took correspondence courses or dropped out of school altogether.
Federal courts forced the reopening of the Little Rock schools for the 1959-60 school year.
LaNier graduated that year, along with one other of the Little Rock Nine, Jefferson Thomas. The other seven had either finished school or moved.
Thomas died this month.
LaNier and the others and their families paid a high price for integrating Central High School.
The students were ostracized and harassed. Parents lost jobs and couldn't get new ones.
All of them wound up leaving Little Rock; LaNier avoided even talking about the experience for nearly 30 years.
Now, she said, she's concerned that many young people do not take advantage of the educational opportunities that cost her so dearly.
"We are 12th in the world in college graduates," she said. "How is that possible? Something has happened. We've either lost our way or something has gone wrong."
Over time, the Little Rock Nine's place in history has not only been accepted but celebrated in Arkansas.
In 2005, nine life-size figures of the students were installed on the state Capitol grounds.
"That said a lot to me," LaNier said. "It was the first sculpture of black civil rights figures on a state Capitol grounds in the South. That says a lot about the state of Arkansas.
"Do all Arkansans feel that way? No. But it still says a lot."
Who: Carlotta Walls La- Nier, member of Little Rock Nine, as part of the 2010 Celebration of Books
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Oklahoma State University-Tulsa auditorium, 700 N. Greewood Ave.
Cost: $45 for entire event (teachers and students admitted free, but reservations still required).
For more: 594-8215 or tulsaworld.com/poetsandwriters
Original Print Headline: Little Rock Nine member to speak
Randy Krehbiel 581-8365