Civil Rights icon Carlotta Walls speaks at UNL

Story, aggregated content and video by: Bekkah Watkins, NewsNetNebraska 

Carlotta Walls was 14-years-old in 1954. She clearly remembers the headline on her weekly reader that said “Brown v. Board of Education.” The U.S. Supreme Court decision ended legal racial segregation in America’s public schools. From that moment, Walls said she knew she would be going to an integrated school.

Growing up in Arkansas during the Jim Crow era, Walls said, “I had to sit in the back of the bus. I had to sit in the back of the theatre. I couldn’t swim in the public swimming pool. I couldn’t even go to the public library.”

That’s just how it was for African-Americans until 1957 when Walls was finally able to attend Little Rock Central High School. It wasn’t easy getting there.

On Sept. 4, 1957, Walls and eight other students walked up to their new school. On this day, they were denied access by the Arkansas National Guard troops who had been ordered by the governor “to only let the white students in.”

A new civil rights era begins

Only after a proclamation by the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, that it was the law that these students be allowed into the school, that Walls and the other “Little Rock 9” finally walked into their new school’s halls and classrooms.

This was on Sept. 25, 1957, three years after the Supreme Court ruled that public schools had to be integrated.

“I had a bodyguard every day,” Walls said. She still remembers how frightening it was to attend school and how these racially charged events took away her love of attending school.

Historic anniversary

2017 marked the 60th anniversary of “The Little Rock 9.” Walls says it’s important for society to keep moving forward. She said she feels at times we are moving in the wrong direction from what needs to be done. Watch a documentary about the Little Rock Nine below.

Walls recalled what former President Bill Clinton told her and the other eight in a meeting years ago. He spoke about how there is still work to be done on equality.

He said, “I wish I could tell you to put on your dancing shoes, but I think you need to put your boots back on.”

Today, some of the people who were against Walls and the others in the 1950s have asked for their forgiveness. Walls said others question why they still bring up these past events. There is still work to be done but Walls summed everything up in one sentence.

That sentence was, “Don’t just have a good day, have a day that matters”.

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