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‘Little Rock Nine’ pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier to speak at UC Riverside

1/16/2014, 5:07 p.m.
‘Little Rock Nine’ pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier

Civil rights pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the the “Little Rock Nine,” will tell the story of her participation in a pivotal moment of civil rights history in a free talk on the campus of the University of California, Riverside on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

LaNier will speak from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Highlander Union Building, room 302. Doors open at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“We are thrilled to welcome a civil rights legend to our campus,” said Ken Simons, director of African Student Programs. “It isn’t often that you have the opportunity to hear a voice that you have read about in a history book. Carlotta Walls LaNier’s story is history brought to life. We expect a full house in [Highlander Union Building, room] 302 for her appearance.”

LaNier chronicled her story in the book “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.” Now a successful real estate broker, she has received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Spingarn Medal, is an inductee into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and has been named a Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction. She also serves on the board of trustees for the University of Northern Colorado.

Following the Q-and-A session, the Pi Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. will hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the UC Riverside Bell Tower.

The talk and vigil will come two days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20) and will kick off several weeks of events that will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

“We have many exciting events planned for Black History Month in February and beyond,” Simons said. “But I can think of no better way to kick off the schedule than with Carlotta Walls LaNier.”

The then 14-year-old LaNier was one of nine African-American students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School in September 1957 as part of the gradual integration proposed by the Little Rock School District following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. On Sept. 4, 1957, several segregationist groups held protests intended to block the students from entering the school, and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus sent the National Guard in support of the segregationists. The students were turned away.

Protests, a citywide prayer service and a meeting between President Dwight Eisenhower and Faubus were held. Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and sent in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to protect the nine students. By the end of the month, the nine were admitted to the school. But just being in the door didn’t make things easier, as they were verbally and physically abused throughout the school year.

LaNier’s appearance is co-sponsored by the UC Riverside vice chancellor of student affairs and African Student Programs. For more information, call 951-827-4576.