Black Pioneers: Carlotta Walls LaNier

Photo courtesy: National Women's Hall of Fame

On this date in 1960, a bomb exploded in the home Carlotta Walls LaNier. LaNier, the youngest of the Little Rock Nine, was home with her mom and sister, but no one was injured, according to the Equal Justice Initiative

The oldest of three daughters, Carlotta Walls was born on Dec. 18, 1942 in Little Rock to Juanita and Cartelyou Walls. Her father was a brick mason and a World War II veteran, and her mother was a secretary in the Office of Public Housing.

Inspired by Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger sparked the 1955 Montgomery, Ala. bus boycott, as well as the desire to get the best education available, Walls enrolled in Central High School as a sophomore, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Walls was one of the nine African American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Some white students called her 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. 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, despite her family’s house being bombed in February of that year.

Walls attended Michigan State University for two years in the early 1960s before moving with her family to Denver. In 1968, she earned a Bachelor of Science from Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) and began working at the Young Women’s Christian Association as a program administrator for teenagers.

Also in 1968, Walls married Ira C. “Ike” LaNier, with whom she had a son and a daughter. In 1977, she founded LaNier and Company, a real estate brokerage firm in Denver. 

LaNier was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Association for the Advancement of Colored People, along with the other Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates, in 1958. She has also served as president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, a scholarship organization dedicated to ensuring equal access to education for African Americans, and is a trustee for the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Northern Colorado. 

In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented the nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the members of the Little Rock Nine. In 2009, she published her memoir, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. In October 2015, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y.