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A Mighty Long Way
Cover of A Mighty Long Way
A Mighty Long Way
My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School
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"A searing and emotionally gripping account of a young black girl growing up to become a strong black woman during the most difficult time of racial segregation."—Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School

"Provides important context for an important moment in America's history."—Associated Press

When fourteen-year-old Carlotta Walls walked up the stairs of Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1957, she and eight other black students only wanted to make it to class. But the journey of the "Little Rock Nine," as they came to be known, would lead the nation on an even longer and much more turbulent path, one that would challenge prevailing attitudes, break down barriers, and forever change the landscape of America.

For Carlotta and the eight other children, simply getting through the door of this admired academic institution involved angry mobs, racist elected officials, and intervention by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was forced to send in the 101st Airborne to escort the Nine into the building. But entry was simply the first of many trials. Breaking her silence at last and sharing her story for the first time, Carlotta Walls has written an engrossing memoir that is a testament not only to the power of a single person to make a difference but also to the sacrifices made by families and communities that found themselves a part of history.
"A searing and emotionally gripping account of a young black girl growing up to become a strong black woman during the most difficult time of racial segregation."—Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School

"Provides important context for an important moment in America's history."—Associated Press

When fourteen-year-old Carlotta Walls walked up the stairs of Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1957, she and eight other black students only wanted to make it to class. But the journey of the "Little Rock Nine," as they came to be known, would lead the nation on an even longer and much more turbulent path, one that would challenge prevailing attitudes, break down barriers, and forever change the landscape of America.

For Carlotta and the eight other children, simply getting through the door of this admired academic institution involved angry mobs, racist elected officials, and intervention by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was forced to send in the 101st Airborne to escort the Nine into the building. But entry was simply the first of many trials. Breaking her silence at last and sharing her story for the first time, Carlotta Walls has written an engrossing memoir that is a testament not only to the power of a single person to make a difference but also to the sacrifices made by families and communities that found themselves a part of history.
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  • ATOS:
  • Lexile:
    1040
  • Interest Level:
  • Text Difficulty:
    6 - 8

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    A Different World

    For the longest time, I wanted nothing more to do with Little Rock. After leaving in 1960, I returned only when necessary, usually for funerals. But my work as president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation brings me home often these days, and I inevitably wend my way down Interstate 630 to my old neighborhood. Most often, I go there to see Uncle Teet, who still lives in my great-great grandfather Hiram Holloway's old house, five houses down from the one where I grew up. But every now and then, I pull up alongside the redbrick bungalow at 15th and Valentine streets, park the car, and get out.

    This was the center of my world as a child. The place looks abandoned with its boarded-up windows and weeds where lush green grass used to grow. There is no sign of the big gardenia bush that once graced the front yard. Mother would pick a fresh flower from that bush and place it in her hair just so, like Billie Holiday. But the gardenias are long gone. So, too, is the tree in the backyard that used to grow the plumpest, sweetest figs around. The pecan tree still stands, and as I picked up a few dried nuts one scorching summer day, I was reminded of the lean Christmas in junior high school when that tree provided perfect homemade gifts for most of my family and friends. Money was tight that year, so I made date-nut cakes from the bounty in our backyard to give away as presents. There were three of those huge trees, perfectly aligned in a row from our yard to the Davises' yard next door to the other Davis property down the street. So, of course, someone in the neighborhood was always making homemade pecan ice cream or baking pecan pies or some kind of nut cookies or cake.

    I'm amazed at how small it all seems now--our house, the yard, and even those pecan trees, which to a little girl staring up seemed just a few steps from heaven. I still call the place "our house," as if it remains in my family. But Mother finally sold it several years ago when the upkeep became too much and I convinced her that none of her three girls would ever return. She was reluctant at first to let go. The memories, I guess. And our family roots--they run pretty deep through there.

    I was three years old when Daddy bought the house at 1500 S. Valentine Street, just blocks away from the all-white Central High School. Even then, the school was known throughout the country for its Greek-inspired architecture, beauty, and high academic achievement. Daddy had just returned from the Philippines, where he served in World War II until December 1945. Mother was weary of having moved with me at least four times, mostly among relatives, while he was away. My parents paid $3,000 for the house, sold to them by my mother's grandfather, Aaron Holloway, who had raised her practically all of her life after his daughter moved away to St. Louis.

    Papa Holloway, as I knew my great-grandfather, looked like a Spaniard with his tan skin, dark eyes, thick, wavy black hair, and mustache. I'm told that in his younger days, his hair would sprout into a nest of thick black curls--and thus the source of his nickname among some of our neighbors: Curly. He stood about six feet tall, and family members say that I--tall and slender as a child--inherited his height and thin build. I probably inherited some of his other characteristics, too, like my hair, which is naturally pretty wavy. When I was a child, it grew like weeds, so long and thick that I had trouble grooming it, and Mother had to plait it into neat braids or pull it into ponytails until I was well into junior high school. I wasn't allowed to get my first haircut until eighth grade, and I've mostly kept it short ever...

About the Author-
  • Carlotta Walls LaNier attended Michigan State University and graduated from Colorado State College–now the University of Northern Colorado, on whose board of trustees she sits. After working for the YWCA, she founded her own real estate brokerage firm, LaNier and Company. A sought-after lecturer, LaNier speaks across the country, and she has received the Congressional Medal of Honor and two honorary doctorate degrees. She is the mother of two children, Whitney and Brooke, and lives in Englewood, Colorado, with her husband, Ira.
    Lisa Frazier Page, an editor and award-winning reporter at The Washington Post, is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream. A graduate of New Orleans's Dillard University, Page holds a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She grew up in Bogalusa, Louisiana, and lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband. They have four children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 1, 2009
    At 14, Lanier was the youngest of the “Little Rock Nine,” who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1951; she went on to become the first African –American young woman to receive a diploma from the school. Her memoir provides a firsthand account of a seismic shift in American history. She recalls the well-reported violence outside the school and daily harassment and ineffective protection from teachers and guards. Away from school, the Nine were honored and feted, but their parents found their jobs—even their lives—in jeopardy. Lanier’s house was bombed, and a childhood friend, Herbert Monts, was falsely accused and convicted. Monts’s account of his experiences, shared with Lanier, 43 years later, is historically newsworthy. Lanier’s recollections of family history and her relatively pedestrian experiences after high school graduation (graduate school, job hunting, marrying, finding her new home in Denver) lack the drama of her historical moment. In a sense, Lanier didn’t make history, history made her. Her plainspoken report from the front line is, nevertheless, a worthy contribution to the history of civil rights in America.

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2009
    Well-crafted look at the wrenching experience of the youngest of the"Little Rock Nine."

    In the fall of 1957, three years after Brown v. Board of Education ordered the desegregation of all U.S. public schools, 14-year-old Carlotta Walls (now LaNier) signed up to be among the first black students at previously all-white Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. This na™ve, earnest decision would affect every facet of her life, as well as the lives of her family and neighbors. Coached and encouraged by the local NAACP branch, ten students attempted to attend Central High, only to be turned back by an ugly mob and the Arkansas National Guard, dispatched to encircle the school by staunch segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus. As lawsuits pressed by Thurgood Marshall and other civil-rights lawyers were pursued, President Eisenhower dispatched federal paratroopers to avoid"anarchy" and accompany each of the nine students (one had given up) to their classes."Getting inside Central was just the beginning," remembers the author; now she faced"a brand new struggle: finding a way to survive." The daily abuse, both verbal and physical, caused intense stress; LaNier's memoir vividly depicts the students' and their families' blistering struggles. Faubus illegally closed down all the area high schools during the'58-59 school year ("the Lost Year"), and the violence worsened; Walls' home was bombed. She left Little Rock for college and a career, loath even to mention her involvement for many years. Finding her voice, as she notes, came much later, and this hindsight account suggests that the nation still has not achieved closure about the painful events at Little Rock.

    Keenly observed and moving.

    (COPYRIGHT (2009) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from August 15, 2009
    Much has been written about the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 195758, but LaNieryoungest of the Little Rock Nineoffers a different perspective as a student who was eager for a good education but never really wanted to be at the center of such a momentous event. Facing abuse from white students, she also avoided the press and shunned attention from supporters. While many of the Little Rock Nine ended up attending school elsewhere, following the closing of all Little Rock high schools for the 195859 school year by Governor Faubus, LaNier returned for her senior year. She survived the bombing of her home, graduated from Central, and left Little Rock intending never to look back (she lives with her family in Colorado and founded a real estate brokerage firm). VERDICT With honest clarity, LaNier acknowledges what Little Rock's African Americans lost because of Central's integration: secure jobs, a strong sense of community, and the special commitment of the well-qualified teachers at black schools. Not until 50 years later was LaNier able to confront her past and embrace her role in civil rights history. An engaging and moving book; highly recommended.Kathryn Stewart, Proquest/Library of Congress, Washington, DC

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2009
    In 1957 nine black students integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, triggering a firestorm of violence. LaNier, at 14, was one of the group that came to be known as the Little Rock Nine. Overwhelmed by the hatred she and others faced, as well as the national notoriety and talk of their bravery when they were just teenagers trying to get a good education, LaNier has for nearly 40 years been fairly silent about the experience. When President Bill Clinton honored the nine with the Congressional Gold Medal, LaNier began to tell her own story. In this gripping memoir, she recalls her family history of achievement, her decision to go to Central, the harassment and abuse she suffered, and the disrupted school years as she took correspondence courses and went to school elsewhere. She also recalls the bombing of her familys home and the unjust conviction of a family friend blamed for the bombing.A moving, very personal account of the aftermath of the 1954 Brown decision that began the painful process of desegregation.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2009, American Library Association.)

  • Kirkus Reviews

    "This hindsight account suggests that the nation still has not achieved closure about the painful events at Little Rock....Keenly observed and moving."

  • Congressman John Lewis "This is a marvelous book. It is a personal account that describes a moving period in the transformative struggle for civil rights and social justice in America. Above all, this story is an inspiration. Through it all, Carlotta Lanier and her fellow students never gave up. They never gave in. They kept the faith and because of their dignity, their tenacity, and their sacrifice they helped to redeem the soul of America."
  • Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School "Carlotta Walls LaNier's memoir, A Mighty Long Way, is a searing and emotionally gripping account of a young black girl growing up to become a strong black woman during the most difficult time of racial segregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. The book is a page-turner and a tear-jerker, discussing the struggle and progress of an individual, and reflecting the historic challenges African Americans face in overcoming racial segregation. This book is a must read and should be required reading for every child of every race who may be trying to appreciate the values of education and the challenges that they might present for people who are different.We learn more about the struggles of the students of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas than is imagined, and it will change the way we evaluate the courage and dignity of people like Carlotta Walls LaNier."
  • Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe "A half-century later, other young Americans draw their inspiration from Carlotta Walls. I am proud that she continues to carry the torch in the struggle for civil rights and to share her story of individual and collective courage with America's young people. Through her experiences of fifty years ago until today, she continues to challenge Americans about the true meaning of equal access to education for all."
  • Hank Klibanoff, Pulitzer Prize winning co-author of The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of the Nation "Carlotta Walls LaNier was the youngest of the Little Rock 9 to cross the color lines, political barriers and cultural chasms that circumscribed her life. She, her family and friends paid a heavy price that burdened them even as it liberated all of us. Her memoir, which is really our memoir, provides a rare perspective on that history in the making."
  • Nancy Rousseau, Principal, Little Rock Central High School (2002 --present) "In A Mighty Long Way, this revered American and special friend boldly tells how her high school days have evolved as the central experience of her life. I commend Carlotta for the legacy she has left and for the lessons she and her colleagues have taught us all with such nobility."
  • Wil Haygood, author of In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr. "There is a quiet majesty to A Mighty Long Way. The telling of this journey is imbued with sweep, tenderness, and the sustained glory of memory."
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