When fourteen-year-old Carlotta Walls walked up the stairs of Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1957, she and eight other black students only wanted to make it to class. But the journey of the “Little Rock Nine,” as they came to be known, would lead the nation on an even longer and much more turbulent path, one that would challenge prevailing attitudes, break down barriers, and forever change the landscape of America.
Descended from a line of proud black landowners and businessmen, Carlotta was raised to believe that education was the key to success. She embraced learning and excelled in her studies at the black schools she attended throughout the 1950s. With Brown v. Board of Education erasing the color divide in classrooms across the country, the teenager volunteered to be among the first black students–of whom she was the youngest–to integrate nearby Central High School, considered one of the nation’s best academic institutions.
But for Carlotta and her eight comrades, simply getting through the door was the first of many trials. Angry mobs of white students and their parents hurled taunts, insults, and threats. Arkansas’s governor used the National Guard to bar the black students from entering the school. Finally, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was forced to send in the 101st Airborne to establish order and escort the Nine into the building. That was just the start of a heartbreaking three-year journey for Carlotta, who would see her home bombed, a crime for which her own father was a suspect and for which a friend of Carlotta’s was ultimately jailed–albeit wrongly, in Carlotta’s eyes. But she persevered to the victorious end: her graduation from Central.
Breaking her silence at last and sharing her story for the first time, Carlotta Walls has written an inspiring, thoroughly engrossing memoir that is not only a testament to the power of one to make a difference but also of the sacrifices made by families and communities that found themselves a part of history.
A Mighty Long Way shines a light on this watershed moment in civil rights history and shows that determination, fortitude, and the ability to change the world are not exclusive to a few special people but are inherent within us all.