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A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School    by Carlotta Walls Lanier & Lisa Frazier Page order for
Mighty Long Way
by Carlotta Walls Lanier
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The title of this memoir, A Mighty Long Way, seems apt not only for Carlotta Walls Lanier's journey of a lifetime, but for the cultural distance traveled by an entire nation. While the events of Carlotta's childhood seem inconceivable today, they happened (in the late 1950s) - and should be remembered.

Carlotta's recollections of the time are rich in extended family and community, something sadly much less common nowadays. She shares those good memories with readers, as well as the innocence with which she signed her name to attend Little Rock Central High School - fourteen-year-old Carlotta Walls had no clue what she and her family were getting into, but simply wanted to attend a good school that was close to home.

Most of us know from history what happened - there was a violent resistance to integration amongst white members of the Little Rock community, and these nine black students had to regularly run the gauntlet just to receive an education. Of course, it wasn't as simple as just showing up - after the state's National Guard barred their access to school, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to send in the 101st Airborne to escort the kids into the building, and even between classes.

I knew the basics before reading A Mighty Long Way, but the details are even more disturbing - from the fact that the black students were not allowed to engage in extracurricular activites all through high school; to the incessant extreme bullying (where retaliation resulted in expulsion); the bombing of the Walls home; attempts to pin it on Carlotta's father; and the successful conviction of her young neighbor and childhood friend, who was almost certainly innocent.

What comes through between the lines of this account of a time that I'm glad is a mighty long way (though not long enough) in the past is the cost to these young people of being flagbearers. In addition to the personal cost of coping for so long with daily ostracism and hate, it's clear that Carlotta felt guilty for the impact on her family, from having to deal with vicious hate calls to her father's beating by police.

Engrossed in Carlotta Walls Lanier's story, I kept hoping for examples of white students and adults standing up for the Little Rock Nine, but sadly she reports here that local white heroes were few and far between - the silent majority of high school peers did little, choosing 'to remain neutral, as if remaining neutral in the face of evil were an acceptable and just choice ... They chose not to see.'

It's a remarkable read that I highly recommend to all ages - to understand history, and to appreciate the choices we can make, either as victims or bystanders of bullying and hate crimes. Read and think about A Mighty Long Way - what would you do in Carlotta's situation, or as one of her classmates or teachers?

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