Coloradan revisits desegregation fight
RIFLE — For three decades, Carlotta Walls LaNier chose not to dwell on a high school experience in which she helped make history.
LaNier, now a real estate broker in the Denver area, lived in Little Rock, Ark., in the 1950s. In 1957, she became one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of black teens who bravely entered an all-white high school after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to send in the 101st Airborne to protect them from angry mobs and from the Arkansas National Guard, which initially had barred their entrance.
LaNier endured a high school career in which she and other blacks were slammed into lockers, thrown down stairs, pelted with eggs and rocks, and not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. Her house also was bombed.
The day after she became the first black female to graduate from Central High School, she left town and didn’t look back.
“I had really pushed this part of my life to the recesses of my mind. I did not want to relive it,” LaNier told an audience at the Colorado Mountain College West Garfield Campus in Rifle on Tuesday.
But after the 30th anniversary of the actions of the Little Rock Nine, LaNier began getting requests from teachers in the Denver area to speak to students about her experience. Reluctantly at first, she began doing so. Then in 2006, she decided it was time to start writing a book about Little Rock. “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School,” published in 2009, is this year’s selection for the CMC Common Reader program, and LaNier has been touring CMC locations to speak about her experiences.
The CMC Common Reader program encourages faculty, staff, students and community members to read the same book and join in discussions about it.
Speaking in Rifle, LaNier recalled a Jim Crow South in which blacks suffered all kinds of indignities.
“I could only go to the zoo on a certain day of the week, all due to the color of my skin, as if the animals know the difference,” she said.
LaNier said that despite the miseries she endured in high school, she has no regrets about deciding to break the color barrier. She knew she’d get a better education than at the black Little Rock schools, and was taught by her parents to seize opportunities when they come along.
LaNier said that thanks to the decision of “nine white men in Washington” in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case, she also knew she was entitled to go to a nonsegregated school.
“My dad paid taxes just like everybody else and his tax dollars were not being separated — none whatsoever,” she said.
She said she didn’t hate those who tormented her in school, but just considered them to be ignorant.
“I was just frustrated with adults not taking charge and teaching their children differently or protecting us more,” she said.
While much has changed since 1957, including a black being elected president, LaNier said there’s still a long ways to go when it comes to people showing tolerance toward others.
“We need to be more open-minded about other people, other cultures, other religions — get past the person’s skin color, unfortunately. That still seems to be a hang-up,” she said.