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Civil Rights Movement icon to visit McLean Community Center during Black History Month

The McLean Community Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 4:35 p.m. on 1/30/2024) The McLean Community Center will cap this year’s Black History Month with an appearance by one of the students who helped integrate public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas — a landmark moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

The youngest member of the “Little Rock Nine,” Carlotta Walls LaNier will visit the Alden Theatre at 1234 Ingleside Avenue on Sunday, Feb. 25 for a free author talk and book signing, preceded by a V.I.P. meet-and-greet.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Fairfax Library Foundation, the meet-and-greet will start at 12:15 p.m. and include refreshments. Currently on sale for $75 through Eventbrite, tickets are available for only 50 people, who will also get reserved seating for the subsequent author talk.

LaNier will then speak from 2-3 p.m. in a Fairfax County Public Library event open to the general public before signing copies of her 2009 memoir “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.”

Now 81 years old, LaNier was just 14 when she and eight other teens became the first Black students to attend Little Rock Central High School in 1957, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Initially turned away on Sept. 3, 1957 by the Arkansas National Guard, which had been called in by governor Orval Faubus, the students weren’t able to actually enter the previously all-white school until Sept. 23, 1957. They were escorted by Little Rock police officers through a mob that began rioting, forcing the students to be quickly evacuated.

It took federal intervention, with President Dwight Eisenhower ordering an escort of Army troops, for the Little Rock Nine to make it into Little Rock Central High School for their first full day of classes on Sept. 25.

Becoming the school’s first Black, female graduate in 1960, LaNier is now 81 years old and has lived in Colorado since 1962, according to the Colorado Sun. In recent years, she has raised concerns about the country regressing when it comes to civil rights and the inclusiveness of education, particularly on history.

“I am concerned that they [young people] are not getting all that I got, even in a segregated school. Parents are paying taxes for good schools, and they’re not getting them,” LaNier told the Denver Urban Spectrum in 2022. “It’s disheartening to know that these kids are not receiving the type of education that even I received in a segregated and integrated environment.”

Correction: This story has been updated with the accurate location of Carlotta LaNier’s events. Fairfax Library Foundation initially announced that they would be held at Dolley Madison Library.

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