Lowy’s very own Carlotta Walls LaNier was one of the Little Rock Nine students that were the first African American students to attend Little Rock’s Central High School.
In 1957, all was not calm in the south especially in Little Rock, AK, where the schools were segregated. The then governor of the state ordered national guardsmen to prevent integration by blocking students entrance into Central High School, one of the top public high schools in the country.
President Eisenhower disagreed and ordered the school be integrated. With the help of the National Guard, a group of nine willing students made multiple attempts to enter the school over several days. Carlotta Walls, the youngest of those with the courage to walk through the line of guardsmen, was spit on and called terrible names by the angry crowds, but eventually walked proudly into the school. Beyond the line, people were shoving, screaming and pushing to keep the kids out.
“Scared? Of course I was scared, but we were promised safety and the time was then. I had wanted a good education and why was I being denied it because of my color?”
Carlotta braved three years of being targeted while achieving integration at a cost. She was shoved and pushed in the hallways while some of the National Guard men who were there to protect her looked the other way. “I learned that while the soldiers were there to make sure the nine of us stayed alive; for anything short of that, I was pretty much on my own.”
When her house was bombed, it made the national news. Her father was denied construction jobs because of his daughter. But she and the other eight stuck it out. The Little Rock Nine were a solid group then and now.
A 14’ statue of the Nine walking to school stands on the grounds outside the state capitol now as a reminder of these gentle souls who walked, studied and stood their ground. In her book A Mighty Long Way, Carlotta details how the struggle affected her, her family, the city and the country. For weeks, the Little Rock Nine were covered in newspapers across the country, and it was the number one story in 1957.
Carlotta was the first black female to graduate from Central High School, attended college at Michigan State, then moved to Denver, where she graduated from what is now the University of Northern Colorado. Upon graduation, she worked for the Denver YWCA as a program director for teenagers. Carlotta founded a real estate company, worked at Frontier Airlines, married, had a wonderful family. In 2015, she moved to Lowry, our Lowry. Carlotta is a gem of a woman, a wife, and a mother. Last fall, the Little Rock Nine were invited to co-sponsor the USS Arkansas, the next generation of nuclear powered submarines. Their initials were engraved on parts of the craft which will be submerged for most of its duties.
For years, she didn’t speak about the hardships she endured as a member of the Little Rock Nine. On the 30th anniversary of school desegregation in 1987, a light was shown on the group by then Governor Clinton of Arkansas. In 2011, the surviving eight gathered to the Clinton Presidential Center in February. A LRN Foundation was begun to continue their story.
Her message is the same: she did what she did because it was the right thing to do and someone had to do it. “My family stood by me, this wasn’t easy or fun for three years – and eventually segregation was achieved (somewhat) in most Southern Schools.”
She’s written two books and numerous articles on her experiences and people are still interested in her fight for the right. She’s included in a wonderful showcase in the new African American History Museum in Washington D.C. wearing the very dress that she wore that first day of school. She recently looked at and murmured a “Well, that was a long time ago.”
She lives her message every day in her speeches to young students when she tells them they too need to take a leadership role in their education. “They can do it,” she says. “They need to hear that it can be done.” She speaks almost weekly at schools and at other events around the country.
She and her husband Ike live in Lowry’s Boulevard One neighborhood and enjoy a great view of the mountains to the west. They enjoy the diversity in eating establishments near them, the parks, their neighbors, the proximity to shopping, theater, and sporting events. They both know that it’s been a long time since 1957 and yet it was just yesterday for the stories that she needs to tell today’s youth.
Meet Your Lowry Neighbors is a monthly feature written by our intrepid reporter Sally Kurtzman, who knows everyone in our community. If you have a suggestion for a Meet Your Lowry Neighbor, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.