In her memoir, Carlotta Walls Lanier shares a story that began on September 25, 1957. That day, President Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airborne to escort nine black students to their first day of high school. The governor blocked the entrance with National Guard troops, in defiance of the law mandating integration. Carlotta is the youngest member of that group, which became known as the "Little Rock Nine." During the next four years, these children and their families changed the future for all of us.
As a fourteen-year-old black girl and a top student, Carlotta has no idea what's in store when she signs up to attend Little Rock Central High School, the best high school in Little Rock. She dreams of the opportunities that a better education will offer, while the other children are giddy with excitement over new books, nice classrooms, the best teachers, music, and sports. As Carlotta and her friends rush toward their new adventure, they assume everyone will accept them because integration is now the law. After all, three years have passed since the Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education, made desegregation mandatory. With the simplicity of youth, they assume that fact settles the issue.
To her credit, the author grounds this story with history and interesting facts that make it accessible to readers of all eras. Carlotta Lanier provides stories that set the scene and aptly describe the wide variety of social climates throughout the country during the late 50s and early 60s. The history comes alive through the vivid descriptions of the people, their character, their culture and language, and the places these events occur. As I share the journey, the story of the southern struggle to integrate takes on new depth and meaning.
Strong leaders and advocates for integration exist at every level. However, I can't help but notice how many women step forward, take the lead, and maintain the momentum, regardless of the consequences. Carlotta's mother is one of those women. When her husband leaves to find work in California, after he is blackballed in Little Rock, she bears the burden of protecting her family in the midst of violence, terrorism, and corruption that professional soldiers and law enforcement can't stem.
What is most amazing is that these young teens managed to learn, and thrive academically, while living with a daily siege of insults and personal injuries. Carlotta showed more than a little "true grit." She stayed the course and became the first black girl to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. It's also no surprise that Carlotta left Little Rock the day after graduation, but that's not the end of her story.
A Mighty Long Way is the story no one saw on the television news, the story of real people. It's the true story of the power of the segregationists and the price they extracted from anyone, black or white, who went against them. Although photos would have added even more impact, the graphic descriptions are superb. This is a story that everyone needs to read and live through with Carlotta and her family.
Carlotta Walls Lanier is a board of trustees member at the University of Northern Colorado and the mother of two children. She is also a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. She and her husband live in Englewood, CO. Read more about Lanier on the publisher's website.
Lisa Frazier Page and her husband live in the Washington, D.C. area. She has four children and works as an award-winning reporter at The Washington Post. She is also the co-author of The Pact. Read more about Page on the publisher's website.
Foreword by Bill Clinton.
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