OKLA. CITY —
History spoke Monday evening when two members of the Little Rock Nine, Carlotta Walls-LaNier and Dr. Terrence Roberts, shared their civil rights journey at Oklahoma Christian University.
They endured being spit on, racial slurs, threats on their lives and being kicked all because they wanted the best education possible. Roberts and LaNier knew they were just as good as the next person.
“I had learned that the road to success is through education,” LaNier said. “And be prepared when the door is opened to go through it.”
The Little Rock Nine was a group of black students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. An attempt was made by then-Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus to prevent them from entering the racially segregated school. Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to enforce the segregation of Little Rock schools.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened by sending the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to Little Rock. They escorted the nine students to attend Central High during the school year.
The seven other students included Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed and Melba Pattillo Beals. So the nine students entered an institution of 2,000 students, where many of the majority did not want them to be there.
“I say to young people in high school today, ‘I don’t wish that on anyone, to have to go to school with fixed bayonets and military in your hallways.’”
Desegregation of the schools began the National Association for Advancement of Colored People began filing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of segregation as racial tension swept the nation.
The NAACP hired a young black lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, who was later to became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall took the case of Brown vs. the Topeka, Kan., Board of Education to the Supreme Court.
“It really was the impetus for me to go into Little Rock Central High School,” said LaNier, whose house was bombed in 1960.
In that case, a little girl named Linda Brown rode a bus 5 miles to school every day, regardless that a public school was located only four blocks from her house. Brown had met all requirements to attend the school except that she was black. The Supreme Court declared state sponsored segregation laws to be unconstitutional in 1954.
As with Brown, LaNier lived close by Central High School and refused to ride the bus much farther away to a segregated black school.
“I just can’t imagine the courage and bravery they showed as teenagers in the face of very difficult circumstances,” said John deSteiguer, president of Oklahoma Christian University. “They changed their lives and they changed literally millions of other lives by what they’ve done.”
Roberts said a disturbing element in 2014 is that too many people cling to the idea that they can accomplish something by themselves.
“We’re all part of the group,” he said. “If there’s only one message. I think that’s probably it. That was a message people didn’t understand in Little Rock.”
Edmond Memorial High School senior, Kasandra Price, said she was inspired by LaNier and Roberts.
“To be able to be in their presence to me is such an honor because they’ve been through so much,” Price said. “So they help people in my generation come to where we have been today and be able to get our education.”
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