From left: Carlotta Walls LaNier and Lisa Frazier Page

From left: Carlotta Walls LaNier and Lisa Frazier Page

Inside Media: The Story of the Little Rock Nine

October 03, 2009

Guests: Carlotta Walls LaNier and Lisa Frazier Page

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

At first there were 39. Then there were nine — nine black students willing to face down an angry mob to attend Little Rock's all-white Central High School in September 1957.

Weeks earlier, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, a leading segregationist, had deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the "Little Rock Nine" from entering the high school. That moment helped catapult 14-year-old Carlotta Walls into an unwanted spotlight.

"Carlotta was the girl in the background," said Washington Post reporter and editor Lisa Frazier Page. "She resented having the microphones put in her face, but as she matured, she came to understand that it was because of the media that things changed."

Page co-authored Carlotta Walls LaNier's new memoir "A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School."

The "Little Rock Nine" tested the boundaries of the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional. But LaNier said she never aspired to become a part of history. In that first spring meeting between 39 interested students, their parents and organizers, she learned that attending Central High School would demand great sacrifice.

But a school ranked 34th in the nation offered endless opportunities after graduation. Page said LaNier would later endure verbal and physical assaults from peers, who "dedicated their days to making hers miserable."

LaNier graduated from Central High School in 1960. In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded the "Little Rock Nine" the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.

The authors signed copies of the book after the program.

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