In 1957, the Arkansas National Guard forcibly stopped 14-year-old Carlotta Walls and eight other African-American students from attending classes at Little Rock Central High School. The children—known today as the Little Rock Nine—were among the first to integrate a Southern school after the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education decision. Walls LaNier, now a Colorado resident, shares her memories and gives advice on how to improve education nationwide.
Click here to hear an audio interview with original Little Rock Nine pioneer Carlotta Walls-LaNier
We had expected just to go to school. When we walked that one block and got up to that corner, the National Guard was there to keep us out. It was unbelievable.
On September 23, we finally got into school. We weren't there all day—we were spirited out by noon because the police could not hold back that mob. They were afraid for our safety. The next day, President Eisenhower said he was sending the 101st Airborne to protect the nine students. I thought, "Finally I'm going to school."
Even though I had a bodyguard, when you're walking down the hall you have books in your arms, and someone comes up and throws [an elbow] at you to knock your books out. You have to learn to pick them up with your backside to the wall or else you'll get kicked.
I never had any true relationship with other classmates. We didn't have a telephone, and no one called me. I didn't call anyone else. Your normal high school [life] was not my normal high school.
We had to work through our own problems. I'm bringing back things [now] that I had forced to the recesses of my mind. I didn't want to relive all the bad things: the spitting on you, the name-calling, the tripping you in the hallways, degrading your humanity.
I was just pleased that I had received that diploma. It validated all I had gone through in those three years. All of the problems, all of the bad things that had taken place.
Fifty years later, we're still talking about some of the same stuff. Are we where we should be? No.
We're lacking in education, lacking a full smorgasbord of classes in our schools; we're lacking in the valuation of our teachers. We need to value our teachers and keep their feet to the fire. The parents of children need to keep the school boards honest.
We need to prepare our young people to be able to work and deal within this multicultural society. What better way than to start in preschool and first grade, so they can see that we're all equal people?
that's all. That's what the world is about.
Don't start thinking you're better than the next person, but know you're just as good.
You take all the information from the past and you build on that to make changes.
Today, I feel like it is time for other people to take the torch and do something. I can keep you aware of what took place, but for me to be the icon for this—I'm moving on age-wise—there's only so much I can do.