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Big Steps on a Long Journey

Carlotta Walls LaNier recalls Little Rock Nine

3/21/2013, 10:31 a.m.

During the Civil Rights Movement, some of the biggest steps toward justice were taken by the country's youngest citizens. One of which was 14-year-old Carlotta Walls. She was the youngest of 10 students, chosen out of 117 Black students to attend Little Rock Central High School, an all-White school. The students were chosen based on academic success and good attendance.

Until then, Black students only attended schools designated for Blacks. That was until May 17, 1954 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that Black children must be allowed to attend any public school in order to obtain an equal education. Afterward, the NAACP took on the task of desegregating all-White schools in the South.

A year after the court ruling, the Little Rock school board approved the registration of African American students and developed a plan to gradually integrate the school system. And on Sept. 4, 1957, Walls, along with Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo (a Texas native) and Jane Hill made their first attempt to walk through the doors of Central. The group would later be known around the world as the Little Rock Nine.

The journey begins

In A Mighty Long Way, written by Walls, she writes about her experience from a young girl's perspective. She describes how innocently she became excited about the opportunity to attend the all-White school. She couldn't wait to wear her new dress. She wondered how many of the students from her school would attend and who she would sit next to in class.

However, before the Black students could attend their new school, they had to attend a meeting with District Superintendent Virgil Blossom. He explained that it would take time for both the Black students and the White students to adjust and the Black students may hear some name-calling, but must not retaliate. He said, for their own safety, they had to leave the campus as soon as their last class ended and could not participate in extracurricular activities -such as varsity sports, clubs, chorus, band and student government. Walls, who was a sophomore vice president and part of her school's girls' basketball team the previous year, thought surely he was mistaken. She thought once the students got to know her and saw how well she played, they would want her on the team.

Then, as Walls recalls in her book, she woke up from her little world when Blossom addressed the boys.

"You are not to date or even look at our girls,"he said sternly. Walls thought of the murder of Emmett Till and was concerned for Green. During the meeting, there were no questions and no discussion. At the end of the meeting, the students and parents walked out quietly.

On Sept. 3, Walls heard a news report that White citizens were in an uproar and had made threats regarding the integration of the public schools. In her innocence, she couldn't believe that the presence of she and her classmates could cause so many people to be so outraged. The report continued, saying that Gov. Orval Faubus had called out the National Guard to protect the local citizens. Being a tax-paying citizen, she was sure that included her, and was comforted by his words.