Review by Carlotta Walls LaNier
When Black eighth grader Carlotta Walls learned that Little Rock Central High School would be integrated in 1957, she didn’t think twice before signing up to go. Central had a real stadium and first-rate science labs and, besides, it was closer to home. It was also a better education, so she signed up. In a few months, Arkansas’s governor would call out the National Guard to keep her from entering the school she’d so casually chosen. Once she got inside, white students would kick, trip and spit at her in the halls while faculty looked the other way. She’d learn that she and the eight other Black students weren’t permitted to participate in sports or other extracurriculars – a shock to the usually-captain-of-everything Carlotta, for whom those things had been part of the draw of Central and excitement about high school. In a few months, her home would be bombed, and she’d still go to school the next day – because she was no longer just a student, but an example: a member of the Little Rock Nine. A Mighty Long Way is, first, the memoir of a girlhood: family, an interest in fashion, an eye-opening childhood trip to New York City. It becomes a visceral account of what it is like to be one of the first, experiencing not just brutal, relentless, daily racism but a charge from history to endure it with quiet grace – all while being a 14-year-old teenager. The Little Rock Nine got a paragraph in the history textbooks of my youth. A Mighty Long Way floored me and schooled me. I recommend it to both adults and teenagers.