Remembering the Little Rock Nine

I shall forever remember my parents’ reaction of fear, and jubilation on that day in 1957 when news broadcasts informed the American public that nine African American students were prevented from entering racially segregated Central High School in Little Rock by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.  President Eisenhower deployed the National Guard to escort those courageous students to class in the landmark desegregation of Central High School. These audacious   individuals became known as the Little Rock Nine and their journey toward educational justice has been judiciously chronicled in America’s history books.

Carlotta Walls LaNier was a guest of honor at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago in 2009. “In 1957, at age 14, she was the youngest Little Rock Nine member to integrate Central High School.”  I was so excited to receive a signed copy of her book, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock and I will use it to share her story with my children, grandchildren as well as the teens that I serve.  “This act of courage and defiance by teens, who were not afraid to take a stand, became the catalyst for change in the American educational system.  By ushering in a new order, Carlotta and her fellow warriors became ‘foot soldiers’ for freedom.”

A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls LaNier

When 14-year-old Carlotta Walls walked up to Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1957, she and eight other black students only wanted to make it to class. But the journey of the “Little Rock Nine” would lead the nation on an even longer and much more turbulent path, one that would challenge prevailing attitudes, break down barriers, and forever change America. Descended from a line of proud black landowners and businessmen, Carlotta was raised to believe that education was the key to success. After Brown v. Board of Education, the teenager volunteered to be among the first black students–she was the youngest–to integrate nearby Central High School. But getting through the door was only the first of many trials.

Remember Little Rock: the Time, the People, the Stories by Paul Robert Walker

Just over 50 years ago, in Little Rock Arkansas, nine brave black students stood up for their rights and made history. The integration of Central High School in Little Rock changed the course of education in America forever, and became one of the pivotal points in the Civil Rights Movement. Paul Robert Walker uses eyewitness accounts and on-the-scene news photography to take a fresh look at a time of momentous consequence in U.S. history. Here, we get the story from all sides: the students directly involved; their fellow students, black and white; parents on both sides; military, police, and government officials.

Daisy Bates, civil rights crusader by Amy Polakow.

Bates was the NAACP coordinator who helped the Little Rock Nine become the first African American students to attend newly integrated Central High School in Arkansas. This vividly detailed biography shows how her personal experience growing up in the rural South stirred early anger yet instilled a stubborn pride that gave her the courage to fight hatred and become one of the most pivotal figures in twentieth-century American history. Blending Bates’ story with a rich, vivid retelling of the anti-segregation struggle and the emotional and physical toll it took on Bates, the Nine, and many others who changed society, Polakow traces how the civil rights struggles gained momentum, and the tension builds to a nail-biting climax. Follow-up descriptions of what became of those nine students are an inspiring testimony to the strength of the human spirit in the face of ignorance and hatred. (Roger Leslie 2003 Booklist)

The Little Rock Nine: The Struggle for Integration by Stephanie Fitzgerald.

In the fall of 1957, nine students in Little Rock, Arkansas, volunteered to integrate the city’s all-white Central High School. This group, known as the Little Rock Nine, soon found themselves in the center of a firestorm. Many people did not want black students to attend the school, and they fought hard to stop them. But the students faced the challenge with grace, dignity, and courage. They pioneered the way for equality in schools and demonstrated the power of freedom for all Americans.



Celebrate African American History Month



On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker by A’Lelia Perry Bundles

Getting Away With Murder: the True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Dennis B. Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

Black Knights : the Story of the Tuskegee Airmen by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip House

We Beat the Streets: How a Friendship Pact Helped Us Succeed by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt

Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker by Beverly Lowry

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

We Are the Ship: the Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Kacks by Rebecca Skloot

Lift Every Voice: the NAACP and the making of the civil rights movement by Patricia Sullivan.

Remember Little Rock: the Time, the People, the Stories by Paul Robert Walker


Zack by William Bell

Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe

Mare’s War by Tanita Davis

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines

New Boy by Julian Houston

Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs by Mary E. Lyons

Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley by Ann Rinaldi

The Land by Mildred D. Taylor

Only Twice Have I Wished for Heaven by Dawn Turner Trice

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Celebrating African American History Month


Place a number of teen friendly, inexpensive gifts in paper bags (bookmarks, key chains, candy, flash drives, pens, etc).  Have enough bags so that everyone that attends has a bag in hand.  Announce that everyone should make a big circle and  keep the bags closed.  Inform the teens that you will read the book, What is a  ZaWadi to We.  Each time that they hear you say the word ZaWadi (gift) they should pass the bag in hand to the person on their right.  After the story has been read, everyone opens the bag that they have in hand.

What is a  ZaWadi to We by Vandella Brown

“While walking in a park, an African-American family, who celebrates Kwanzaa, meets and old storyteller, who tells them the meaning of Kwanzaa gifts called Zawadi. This American story is filled with information about the African-American holiday called Kwanzaa. A glossery assists the reader with definitions, pronunciations, phrases, symbols and explanation of practices.  As a picture book, the colorful paper family images and collage add depth and imagination to the story and African-American history. The poetic verse adds rhyme, rap, and imagery, making the story a one-of-a-kind fun and creative account.  Along with understanding a meaning behind Kwanzaa, another new tradition is introduced with this book on gifting. Although this is a story celebrating Kwanzaa, it is one that can be used for any gift-giving occasions.”

Vandella Brown is the Diversity Program Manager at the Illinois State Library, Springfield, Illinois and is also the author of Celebrating the Family: Steps to Planning a Family Reunion

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Share the story of how this song came to be known as “The Black National Anthem”

It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899. It was first performed in public in the Johnsons’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.

Booklist: A Selection

Along this Way: The Autobiography of  James Weldon Johnson by James Weldon Johnson. c1934,  Penguin Classics, 2008. This was the first autobiography by a person of color to be reviewed in The New York Times.

Lift Every Voice and Sing: a Celebration of the Negro National Anthem, 100 Years, 100 Voices edited by  Julian Bond and Sondra Kathryn Wilson.  Random House, 2000.

Lift every voice and sing  by James Weldon Johnson. Woodcuts by Elizabeth Catlett.  Walker, 1993.

Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Amistad, 2007.

Lift Every Voice and Sing: S elected Poems by James Weldon Johnson, Sondra Kathryn Wilson.   Penguin Classics, 2000.

Reader’s Theater

God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927) by James Weldon Johnson

A collection of poetic sermons written in free verse.  It is said the Johnson considered the voice of the black preacher to be a musical instrument “not a piano . . . or trumpet but a trombone”.