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Marilee J. Layman

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07:56 pm: A Mighty Long Way, My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School...
by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page.

I was two-and-a-half when Central High in Little Rock was integrated, so all I know is history. LaNier's memoir adds a lot of personal information and pictures. The book can be divided roughly into quarters:

1. Her childhood, family, and her original sign-up to go to Central instead of the black high school in Little Rock. Daisy Bates, the NAACP president for Arkansas at the time, helped the kids a lot.

2. The actual integration which took many days and finally the 101st Airborne to get the nine kids in. Each of the kids had a Marine guardian in school, but they didn't "see" what happened to the kids and we read a lot about that in this part. The nine also have a fabulous summer after that awful year when many liberal northern groups invite them to parades and parties and so forth.

3. The second and third years at Central are still not good and when LaNier goes to college, she gets unfocused and doesn't really take her classes. She spends a lot of time listening to jazz and working instead.

4. She finally got going and finished college. This last part is what has happened in her life and the other eight since the integration, including starting their foundation, getting medals and anniversary events, and educating young folks who don't know there is a Little Rock Nine.

Memoirs are generally from the writer's view, and you can expect them to have some rough spots, even with the professional writer helping. Some of the rough spots in this memoir seemed too rough to me. For example:

I was politicized at the point where black folk used "black" to refer to themselves -- "Black Pride," "Black Power," Black Panthers -- and she does for most black folks, too. But she refers to folks with a lower socioeconomic status as "coloreds" or "colored folks," and to the first black professors and politicians (including Obama) as "African-American." She's clearly using a scale related to power and status. Whites do that, too, at least as far as the lower "redneck" and "white trash," but I was surprised she used the range in a book.

The book brings things to us in places where they don't make sense. A young black teen is railroaded to jail for bombing her family's house, but it's not until near the end of the book where he speaks about how he's innocent, that she tells us he was her best friend when she was a child. She never mentions him as her best friend in the first family & friends part. There are a number of other misplaced items and I spent some time looking back to find the context.

I suspect most people won't be bothered by this type of thing -- I'm usually one of the few for books at the bookgroup -- and the information about how long it took and how horrible people were for the integration of Central High in Little Rock is very valuable.

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