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It is said that history is written by the victors. That may be true, but it is also written by those who bear witness.
The slim body of literature on the subject of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High just expanded, with books by those most directly affected by events: two of the Little Rock Nine.
Fifty-two years after that fateful fall of 1957, Carlotta Walls LaNier and Dr. Terrence Roberts are publishing books about their experience. LaNier and Roberts are finally telling their stories, sharing their unique perspectives, and shining a light on this watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement. Theirs are intimate and powerful accounts that take readers through that rocky year and well beyond it.
A 52nd anniversary symposium, “Speaking the Truth: Social Issues and Politics in the 21st Century,” is being held Sept. 24-25 by Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in conjunction with the release of these gripping memoirs.
“A Mighty Long Way”
A reporter recently spoke to LaNier from her Englewood, Colo., home about her book “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School,” published this month by Ballantine/One World.
She said that for the past 15 years, she's been asked to write her own story but that the timing wasn't right until now. “I had been encouraged by a number of people to do it … [but] I had good reasons for not doing it. I'm not what you call a writer, but I now understand what writers mean when they say they bleed. At times, I felt that way. … It was tough, but it's been good for me.” Of the end result, she said, “I'm very happy it has been accomplished.”
In “A Mighty Long Way,” she revisits those tumultuous days at Central and offers revelations about the Little Rock Nine story, including why it was important to clear her friend Herbert Mont's name in the much-publicized bombing of her family's home.
LaNier does not speak for the Nine, but writes only of her own journey. “There are nine individuals with nine different stories,” she said.
The story both informs and inspires; hers has been a life full of accomplishments, among them sitting on the board of her alma mater, the University of Northern Colorado; founding her own real estate brokerage firm, LaNier and Co., and raising two children. She continues to speak across the country, and, like all the Nine, was presented the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Clinton. She holds two honorary doctorate degrees.
LaNier has returned to Little Rock often, to see family, for her work with the Little Rock Nine Foundation, and for the 40th and 50th anniversaries of her entrance into Central. Each time, she still visits her childhood home on Valentine Street. She said of coming back, “It's a good feeling. I got a lot of encouragement there at the LRCH historic site to put my story in writing.”
Asked if, as a 14-year-old, she realized the significance of her choice to attend Central, she said, “I knew it was a change and a positive one.” To her, she said, choosing to enter Central “was a no-brainer.”
“The real reason I went,” she added, “was because I wanted access to the best education available.” Her continuing belief in the importance of education is a topic she addresses at length in her book.
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