By Carlotta Walls Lanier, on why she wrote A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School (One World, July 2010).
I started this book in earnest in January of 2006. I had in mind the upcoming 50th anniversary of our entry into Little Rock’s Central High School. This September 2007 event might have been the impetus, but it wasn’t the reason. (Besides, I sort of missed that deadline by a couple of years!)
As I say in the book, I didn’t talk much about my experiences until the late 1980s, after our 30th anniversary, when the nine of us were all together again in Little Rock and Bill Clinton was governor of the state. In the years that followed, Melba told her story in Warriors Don’t Cry. Ernie had a movie about his experience, The Ernie Green Story. Mrs. Huckaby, the assistant principal, told her story, which was made into a movie called Crisis at Little Rock. Back in the 1960s, Mrs. Bates had told her story in The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
So I started making my way into high school and college classrooms to tell my story. Invariably, students who knew some of these other works would assume that my story was also their story, that my story had already been represented by others. Well, that just was not the case. Each of us has a story—not greater or lesser, just different.
So this is one reason: My story had not yet been told. I was the only one who could tell it.
But why the long wait? Because this journey back in time was deeply painful. To revisit that period, to really find out what it all meant and how it shaped the life I have lived, took a great deal of courage I wasn’t sure that I had. Though I had friends along the way who helped me get at that story, the journey backwards—as it was over fifty years ago—was still a singular and lonely path. Quite frankly, I did not want to go there. But as with all that weighs heavy in our psyches, there are things we need to see in the light of day to understand. As the old woman said, when asked about her writing: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
This book is my understanding of my story. It’s out now, and I can see the light of day.
Upon the book’s release, I began to talk about it with students on college campuses. My favorite moments during these visits are the question and answer sessions. On a recent visit to a campus in North Carolina, it seemed that every student was bursting with questions. Some of the African American students connected their own educational path with my journey. By doing so, they came to know their nation’s history in a more personal and real way. I also enjoy going to lunch or dinner with students; the talk becomes more intimate. I get to know who they are, and they can ask me questions that often cause me to think in new ways about my story.
I would be delighted to visit your campus so your students can get to know my story, which is ultimately their story.
Click here to view author Carlotta Walls Lanier’s presentation at the 2010 First-Year Experience® Conference
Carlotta Walls LaNier attended Michigan State University and graduated from Colorado State College–now the University of Northern Colorado, on whose board of trustees she sits. After working for the YWCA, she founded her own real estate brokerage firm, LaNier and Company. A sought-after lecturer, LaNier speaks across the country, and she has received the Congressional Medal of Honor and two honorary doctorate degrees. She is the mother of two children, Whitney and Brooke, and lives in Englewood, Colorado, with her husband, Ira.