LANSING, Mich. – The signature annual event of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan is recognizing the 65th anniversary of the Little Rock Crisis that mobilized a nation to ensure access to a quality education.
The 2022 MLK Day of Celebration will feature four of the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, who volunteered in 1957 to desegregate one of the nation’s largest all-white high schools. Their courageous actions tested the strength of the 1954 unanimous Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
The commission’s celebration will be broadcast, Jan. 17, 7-8 p.m. EST, on WILX TV 10-NBC and WLNS TV 6-CBS. It will also be on the commission's website and YouTube Channel, and rebroadcast Tuesday, Jan. 18, 12:30 p.m., on ELAJ TV CW-5, and on Sunday, Jan. 23, 5 p.m., on WLAJ TV 53-ABC.
“The stories our guests will tell reveal their strength and resolve to correct an injustice even at their young ages at the time — the youngest was 14,” said Elaine Hardy, commission chair. “They and their families endured constant intimidation, bullying, and verbal and physical abuse. But their actions helped define the civil rights movement.
“One of the strongest lessons they offer today is that age need not be a factor in one’s ability to correct an injustice.”
The theme for the 2022 celebration is “In the long run, justice finally must spring from a new moral climate.” This was written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to President Dwight D. Eisenhower when requesting federal assistance with school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. The nine students had initially been met by a hostile crowd of about 1,000 people and the Arkansas National Guard, as ordered by Gov. Orval Faubus.
The former Little Rock Central High School students appearing in the program are:
• Ernest Green
• Carlotta Walls LaNier
• Dr. Terrance Roberts
• Minnijean Brown Trickey
They will be interviewed by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II. Two have ties to Michigan State University: Green earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at MSU; LaNier attended MSU for two years before completing a bachelor’s degree in Colorado. More information about the four guests is at https://bit.ly/CommissionLR9.
The Jan. 17 program also includes:
• Musical performances, including one by Candice Glover, an American R&B singer and actress who won the 12th season of “American Idol.”
• Messages from elected officials.
• Recognition of winners of the commission’s student essay contest that offers $17,500 in prizes and scholarships.
• Announcement of the commission’s annual sponsors.
Many organizations, including City of East Lansing and City of Lansing, actively support the commission’s work. Corporate sponsors donating $10,000 or more for 2022 programming are AF Group/Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, CASE Credit Union, Cinnaire, Consumers Energy, Dean Transportation, Delta Dental of Michigan, Jackson, LAFCU, Lake Trust Credit Union, MacDonald Broadcasting and MSU Federal Credit Union.
Mark McDaniel, Cinnaire CEO, will return as master of ceremonies, and a digital program book will be available for download from the commission’s website. Sponsorships are still available.
This is the second time in the event’s 37-year history that it will have been televised rather than live. Pre-pandemic, the annual celebration was presented before sold-out audiences of up to 2,200 at the Lansing Center, Lansing.
The commission’s MLK Day of Celebration is a tribute to the inspiring civil rights leader. For more information visit https://mlkmidmichigan.com or follow the commission on Facebook, @MLKCommOfMidMI, and Twitter, @MLKCommOfMidMI.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan works to support equality, diversity and social justice. It focuses on the area’s pressing issues of literacy, youth violence, hunger, mentoring, education and community enrichment. The nonprofit organization hosts speakers and concerts, supports community service agencies, and promotes youth initiatives, such as essay and art contests, college scholarships and an annual Y-Achievers tour for high school students.
Fact Sheet: About the Little Rock Crisis
Overview: In September 1957, nine students enrolled at the then all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their attendance was to support the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court unanimous decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that declared segregated schooling to be unconstitutional. The conflict drew national attention to the civil rights movement. The nine students, who were known as the Little Rock Nine, became the center of the struggle to desegregate public schools in America.
The plan to desegregate Little Rock schools was adopted by the Little Rock school board. The Arkansas NAACP recruited and vetted students to ensure they possessed the strength and determination to face the anticipated hostile situations. They participated in intensive counseling sessions guiding them on what to expect and how to respond. The youngest student was 14 years old.
First try: On the first day of classes, the Arkansas National Guard blocked the Black students’ entry based on orders from Gov. Orval Faubus.
Second try: About three weeks later, the Little Rock Police Department escorted the students into school. Because of an angry mob of some 1,000 white protesters, the police removed the nine students from school that day to avoid rioting.
Third try: Two days later, federal troops sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower escorted the Little Rock Nine into school. The troops remained at the school throughout the academic year.
The school year: Routine harassment and violence included instances of the Little Rock Nine being kicked and beaten. Acid was thrown in one student’s face, and one was pushed down a flight of stairs. White students burned an African American effigy in a vacant lot across from the school. The Black students were barred from participating in extracurricular activities.
Minnijean Brown was expelled in February 1958 for retaliating against the attacks. Another student’s mother was fired from her job with the State of Arkansas when she refused to remove her daughter from the school.
“The Lost Year”: The governor closed all Little Rock high schools the following academic year pending a referendum to prevent integration. Little Rock citizens voted 19,470 to 7,561 — almost three to one — in favor of the referendum, and the schools remained closed as the legal fight over desegregation continued.
Some Little Rock Nine members returned to Central High School and graduated. Others earned their diploma elsewhere or earned a GED diploma.
All grades in Little Rock public schools were finally integrated in 1972.
(Source for above information: www.history.com.)
About the four Little Rock Nine participating in the 2022 MLK Day of Celebration
Ernest Green — Oldest and only senior of the Little Rock Nine. First African American graduate of Central High School. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended Green’s commencement ceremony.
o Received an anonymous scholarship to attend MSU, eventually learned it was from then-MSU President John Hannah.
o Earned a bachelor’s and a master’s.
o Served in two presidential administrations: Carter —assistant secretary of labor for employment and training; Clinton — chair of the African Development Foundation and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Capital Financing Advisory Board.
o Worked as an institutional asset manager most of his career.
o An active MSU alumna, named 2018 MSU homecoming grand marshal.
o Among many portrayals of him in movies chronicling the historic year is the 1993 Disney made-for-television movie, “The Ernest Green Story.”
Carlotta Walls LaNier — At age 14, the youngest Little Rock Nine member. Graduated from Central High School.
o Attended MSU and completed a degree at Colorado State College, now University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.
o A sought-after motivational speaker, she has continued advocating for civil rights throughout her life while pursuing a career as a real estate broker.
o Author: “A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.”
Dr. Terrance Roberts — He entered Central High School as a junior and completed his diploma in Los Angeles, California, when Little Rock high schools closed to prevent further desegregation.
o Earned a bachelor’s at California State University, Los Angeles, and advanced social welfare and psychology degrees at UCLA and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
o Principal of management-consulting firm devoted to fair and equitable practices.
o Sought-after speaker and presenter, maintains a private psychology practice, lectures and presents workshops and seminars.
o Author: “Lessons from Little Rock” and “Simple Not Easy: Reflections on Community Social Responsibility and Tolerance.”
Minnijean Brown Trickey — She was suspended then expelled from Central High School for retaliating against the daily torment she endured. Completed her diploma in New York, living with a psychologist couple whose social science findings played a critical role in the Supreme Court case.
o Studied at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and completed a bachelor’s and a master’s in social work at Ontario, Canada, universities.
o Career committed to peacemaking, environmental issues, developing youth leadership and social justice advocacy.
o In the Clinton administration — deputy assistant secretary for workforce diversity at the Department of the Interior.
o Taught social work at Canadian community colleges and Carleton University.
o Subject of the documentary, “Journey to Little Rock: the Untold Story of Minnijean Brown Trickey.”
Photo Caption & Credit: “Testament: The Little Rock Nine Monument” honors the courage of the nine African American students who began the process of desegregating Little Rock’s public schools in 1957. Located on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol, the memorial features bronze sculptures of the nine students, along with plaques bearing quotations from each of them. (Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism)