Carlotta Walls LaNier of 'Little Rock Nine' to speak at WestConn
Singing and dance performances also featured at Jan. 21 celebration of King legacy

DANBURY, CONN. — Fifty years after she passed with eight other African-American students through the entrance of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., Carlotta Walls LaNier will recount the story of the “Little Rock Nine” who brought school desegregation to the South as keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Celebration on Monday, Jan. 21, at Western Connecticut State University.

The program commemorating King’s civil rights legacy also will feature performances by choral singers and praise dancers. The program will begin at 6 p.m. in Ives Concert Hall in White Hall on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. Admission will be free and the public is invited. Sponsors for the event include WCSU, the Coalition of African American Churches and Organizations, Faith Church, Union Savings Bank and Mutual Security.

LaNier enrolled in Central High School as a sophomore in autumn 1957 as the youngest of the nine African-American students whose admission precipitated a landmark showdown between segregationist authorities in Arkansas and the Eisenhower administration. President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to secure the students’ entrance in compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education mandating school desegregation.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture entry explained that 14-year-old Carlotta Walls, the daughter of Cartelyou and Juanita Walls, decided to enroll in then-segregated Central High School because she sought to obtain the best education available in the Little Rock school system. The encyclopedia article noted she drew inspiration from Rosa Parks, whose refusal to accept segregation on public transportation sparked the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.

“Some white students called Walls names and spat on her, and armed guards had to escort her to classes, but she concentrated on her studies and protected herself throughout the school year,” the article said. “Walls and every other Little Rock student were barred from attending Central the next year when all four Little Rock high schools were closed, but she returned to Central High and graduated in 1960.” 

After graduating from Central, she attended Michigan State University for two years before resettling with her family in Colorado. In 1968, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State College, now known as the University of Northern Colorado, and took her first job as a program administrator for the Denver YWCA. She founded LaNier and Company in 1977, embarking on a successful career over the past three decades in real estate brokerage, management and development in the Denver metropolitan area. She married Ira LaNier in 1968 and has two children.

In 1998 the U.S. Congress approved legislation designating Little Rock Central High School as a National Historic Site and awarding LaNier and other members of the Little Rock Nine the Congressional Gold Medal as “pioneers whose selfless acts advanced the civil rights debate in this country.” LaNier also has received the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Legacy Award from the National Dunbar Alumni Association. She has served as president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, a scholarship organization dedicated to ensuring equal access to education for African-Americans, and as a trustee at the University of Northern Colorado and the Iliff School of Theology.

At a 50th anniversary commemoration this September at Central High of their historic enrollment, LaNier and fellow Little Rock Nine alumni received praise from former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arkansas congressional, state and municipal officials, Peter Whoriskey wrote in the Washington Post.

“It was a day of unmitigated adulation of the Nine, and recognition of how much their determination to attend school had galvanized the civil rights movement,” Whoriskey said. “Their decision to enroll despite the dangers, backed by the federal show of force, made it clear throughout the nation that Brown v. Board of Education would be enforced.”

For information, call the WCSU Office of Multicultural Affairs and Affirmative Action at (203) 837-8278.  

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