Civil Rights Pioneer Visits Mid-Michigan

By: John Tramontana
By: John Tramontana

Civil Rights Pioneer Visits Mid-Michigan

It was a simple action that changed history nearly half a century ago. Carlotta Walls LaNier and eight others chose to attend Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957 as the first black students.

It was a time of racial segregation, but on that day, the "Little Rock Nine" changed the course of civil rights in the United States.

"I was always taught to go out for that extra goal if it was out there to be had," LaNier said.

She now travels the country hoping to inspire others to make a difference, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.

"When I came along history was about dead people, but now there are many historical people living today," she said.

LaNier addressed more than 300 women at Michigan State University at a seminar designed to propel women into leadership roles.

"A lot of time we're suppressed and in order to stand out you really need leadership skills," said event co-organizer Sarah Siewert.

Many in attendance believe LaNier possesses all of the skills evident in a leader.

"We're hoping that women will have more courage, more determination, more vision to get out there and maybe do something they wouldn't do otherwise," event co-organizer Ashley Symons said.

But that may be more difficult after the passage of proposal two this week, a constitutional amendment in Michigan that eliminates affirmative action programs. LaNier expects it to be challenged.

"My guess is there will be a group of people who will try to get that turned around and I bet you anything there will be a lot of women involved in that," she added.

LaNier also showed off her Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, which she received from President Clinton in 1999 for her role in integrating schools.


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