A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School

A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School (Kindle Edition)


by Carlotta Walls Lanier (Author), Lisa Frazier Page (Author)

     Print Length: 304 pages

     Publisher: One World/Ballantine;

    1st edition  (August 25, 2009)

     Sold by: Amazon Digital Services

·                     Language: English

·                     ASIN: B002LLRDYW


Book Description:

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.

Descended from a line of proud black landowners and businessmen, Carlotta was raised to believe that education was the key to success. She embraced learning and excelled in her studies at the black schools she attended throughout the 1950s. With Brown v. Board of Education erasing the color divide in classrooms across the country, the teenager volunteered to be among the first black students--of whom she was the youngest--to integrate nearby Central High School, considered one of the nation’s best academic institutions.

But for Carlotta and her eight comrades, simply getting through the door was the first of many trials. Angry mobs of white students and their parents hurled taunts, insults, and threats. Arkansas’s governor used the National Guard to bar the black students from entering the school. Finally, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was forced to send in the 101st Airborne to establish order and escort the Nine into the building. That was just the start of a heartbreaking three-year journey for Carlotta, who would see her home bombed, a crime for which her own father was a suspect and for which a friend of Carlotta’s was ultimately jailed--albeit wrongly, in Carlotta’s eyes. But she persevered to the victorious end: her graduation from Central.

Breaking her silence at last and sharing her story for the first time, Carlotta Walls has written an inspiring, thoroughly engrossing memoir that is not only a testament to the power of one to make a difference but also of the sacrifices made by families and communities that found themselves a part of history.

Complete with compelling photographs of the time, A Mighty Long Way shines a light on this watershed moment in civil rights history and shows that determination, fortitude, and the ability to change the world are not exclusive to a few special people but are inherent within us all.

Second Review: A Mighty Long Way


Walking the walk in Montgomery with a true civil rights pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier., July 31, 2009


Paul Tognetti "The real world is so much more... (Cranston, RI USA) - See all my reviews

This review is from: A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School (Hardcover)

Customer review from the Amazon Vine™ Program (What's this?)

When Carlotta Walls of Little Rock, AR was 8 years old she had a life changing experience. The year was 1951 and Carlotta's parents Cartelyou and Juanita Walls decided it would be a good idea for their young daughter to spend her summer vacation visiting an aunt in New York City. It was a thrilling experience for young Carlotta. She visited Radio City Music Hall, saw a ballgame at Ebbets Field, and paid a visit to the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps more important than any of these experiences she befriended a young white boy by the name of Francis. Such a relationship was simply out of the question in her hometown of Little Rock. When young Carlotta packed her bags and returned to Little Rock in the waning days of August she was no longer the same little girl. Through her experiences that summer she suddenly realized that every place was not like the Jim Crow South that she and her family existed in. She could not have known it at the time but her new worldview would have a profound impact on a monumental decision she would make just a few years later.

In the 1954 decision "Brown v. Board of Education" the U.S. Supreme Court declared that "all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional" and furthermore ordered the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation. By the time the State of Arkansas got around to complying with the Supreme Court ruling it was 1957. Governor Orval Faubus was a self proclaimed segregationist who fought integration tooth and nail from the get-go. He was not happy about but plans were moving forward to integrate the schools including Little Rock Central High School. Nine courageous young black students registered to attend Little Rock Central High in the fall of 1957. One of them was Carlotta Walls. "A Mighty Long Way: My Journey To Justice At Little Rock Central High School" is Carlotta Walls LaNier's gripping first person narrative of the historic and painful events that took place in Little Rock back in 1957 and the effect that the experience would have on the rest of her life. It is a compelling story.

While reading Carlotta's gut wrenching account of her days at Little Rock Central High one cannot not help but feel empathy for this smart, courageous and determined young lady. Carlotta and her 8 comrades put everything on the line in order to advance the cause of integration in her hometown. But I don't believe that any of these youngsters had any idea what they were up against. As is made clear in the pages of "A Mighty Long Way" the odds were clearly against them. The political establishment in Arkansas would do everything in their power to obstruct the process. Ultimately, President Dwight Eisenhower would be forced to send in federal troops to take control of the situation. It was an ugly time in Little Rock. Racial epithets were flying everywhere and the threat of violence lurked around every corner . One wonders how these young people garnered the courage to face this situation. Indeed, not all of them would make it to graduation.

After much heartache and pain Carlotta Walls did manage to graduate from Central Little Rock High in June of 1960. The very next day she left Little Rock and never looked back. She was tired of the notoriety and controversy and just wanted a fresh start elsewhere. She had never sought the spotlight. "A Mighty Long Way: My Journey To Justice At Little Rock Central High School" goes on to tell the rest of Carlotta's fascinating life story. Although she went to great lengths to put the events of her past behind her Carlotta would eventually have to come to terms with it. One cannot help but admire what Carlotta and the rest of the group that history would dub "The Little Rock Nine" would ultimately achieve. I found "A Mighty Long Way" to be a terrific read. Recommended.


From NPR:


'A Mighty Long Way' From Little Rock

August 26, 2009                               Read the Book:

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'A Mighty Long Way' From Little Rock



Author Carlotta Walls LaNier


Courtesy of Carlotta Walls LaNier

Author Carlotta Walls LaNier was nurtured by women, but she credits the men in her life for her independent streak and determination.

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August 26, 2009

In 1957, the "Little Rock Nine" enrolled in racially segregated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Carlotta Walls LaNier was the youngest member of the group.

In her book, A Mighty Long Way, she remembers her journey. Her trip began with a decision she calls a "no-brainer." She signed a piece of paper with her intention to attend Little Rock Central High School, and "didn't think another thing of it."

She finished her tenure at Little Rock Central High with a diploma. "I am the only female of the Little Rock Nine to participate in graduation exercises," she told guest host Andrea Seabrook. "Two others, that were juniors that became seniors, did receive diplomas, but schools were closed during that time."


Excerpt: 'A Mighty Long Way'

by Carlotta Walls LaNier

Cover of 'A Mighty Long Way'

Chapter One

A Different World

Papa's wife, Mary, died in 1922 at age thirty-four while giving birth to their sixteenth child. The baby girl died, too, as did a set of twins who had been born earlier. Papa raised the remaining children and never married again. His oldest son, Hugh, would become one of only two black men who worked as skilled laborers on Central High School when it was built. Papa's longtime girlfriend, Dora Holmes, was a widow who lived down the street and owned the house at 1500 S. Valentine Street. Mother and I stayed with her briefly while my father was away at war. How much of my memory of Mrs. Holmes is influenced by family stories, I don't know. But I remember being terrified of her. She dressed like a witch or a woman on the frontier, in long black cotton dresses and black high-top boots. I didn't realize then that she may have been trying to cover a prosthetic leg.

On some Sunday mornings, my paternal grandfather, Big Daddy, would drop me off at Mrs. Holmes's house after I had spent the weekend with him. As soon as we approached the house, I'd start screaming and hollering that I didn't want to go. I'd fall out, kicking and wailing, on the front porch. But when the front door opened silently, I saw from the corner of my eyes those high-top boots and the hem of her long black dress moving toward me. I immediately turned off the tears, rose to my feet, and followed Mrs. Holmes inside as though I had some sense.

When Dora Holmes died, she left her estate in the care of Papa Holloway, who offered the house to my father. None of us could have imagined then how much that address would dictate the course of our lives in the years ahead. The house was located just west of downtown Little Rock, a few miles beyond 9th Street, which was then a bustling strip of black-owned businesses and nightspots. The community surrounding 9th Street was all black. My end of town was more racially mixed — black families lived on one block, whites on the other. In some cases, black and white families lived across the street from one another. But our white neighbors may as well have been living on Mars for all we knew of their lives. When my family moved there, the neighborhood was still new. Most of the houses were box-shaped with wooden frames, built along a grid of narrow dirt roads after World War II. They were modest but well kept. A few had porches, and most had small yards, though they didn't seem small then. Our house stood out because Daddy, who earned a living as a brick mason, meticulously covered it from top to bottom with the same red bricks that remain on the house today. The only other brick house in the neighborhood belonged to Papa Holloway.

Daddy had learned the brick masonry trade from his father-in-law, Med Cullins, a master contractor who did brick masonry work on Central High in the 1940s. Grandpa Cullins, my mother's father, was a real character. He was a big, imposing man who stood over six feet tall with a heavyset frame, a gravelly voice, and a gruff disposition that matched his size. His beige skin and straight hair gave him the appearance of a slightly tanned white man. He walked with his shoulders squared and head high and carried a half-pint of liquor stuffed in his back pocket. He also couldn't finish a sentence without at least one "goddamn." Grandpa was his own man. He had one suit and wore mismatched socks, but he considered those kinds of things trivial. When I met Thurgood Marshall in later years, his aura reminded me in an odd way of Grandpa Cullins. Neither man kowtowed to anyone. Confidence seemed to radiate from them both, but the likeness ended there.

Grandpa Cullins had an intimidating — and sometimes crude — presence, which worked to his advantage when it came time to collect from someone who had hired him to do a job. He could be less than forgiving on money matters, even if the delinquent client was a house of worship.

"Your father just embarrassed the heck out of me," I heard my father tell Mother one Sunday afternoon when I was in junior high school after the two men returned from a church service in a nearby town.

Grandpa Cullins had asked Daddy to drive him to the church. But as the service wound to a close, the pastor made the mistake of recognizing my grandfather to say a few words. Grandpa Cullins strolled to the front, told the congregants what a pretty goddamn church they had, but he reminded them that he was still waiting for his money.

Grandpa was not a patient man. He called every man "son" and every woman "daughter," including his own children and grandchildren, who say he did so because he didn't want to bother remembering any names.

"Daughter, let me speak to daughter," he commanded one day when I answered the phone at home.

I looked at Mother and her sister and responded: "Which one?"

"Goddammit," Grandpa barked. "The one who lives there!"

Grandpa Cullins had dropped out of Philander Smith College in Little Rock to start his contracting business, but he was a highly intelligent man who stayed abreast of current events. He'd insisted that his four children — Mother, her younger brother, and two older sisters — go to college. The schools of choice were Philander Smith or Talledega College in Alabama. Grandpa loved politics, particularly presidential history. Many times, I heard him start with Truman and work his way back, reciting the years each president served, the president's party, and something significant about each man's time in office. But when Grandpa got to Taylor, he always said, "And next is that goddamn Zachariah Taylor..."

At first, I didn't understand what he meant, so I asked: "What's wrong with Zachary Taylor?"

"That's Sam Mumford's grandfather," Grandpa Cullins responded, referring to his good friend and fellow contractor.

"Oh, Grandpa, you know a president wouldn't marry a colored woman," I shot back.

He looked at me with a sly grin. "Whoever said anything about getting married?"

Excerpted from A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page Copyright 2009 by Carlotta Walls Lanier. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.