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MSU Denver hosts MLK Peace Breakfast featuring famed civil rights leader

Carlotta Walls LaNier, member of the Little Rock Nine, served as the keynote speaker
MSU Denver MLK Peace Breakfast.jpg
Posted at 3:58 PM, Jan 13, 2023

DENVER – Metropolitan State University of Denver held a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Breakfast and Awards Ceremony Friday morning to kick-off a weekend honoring the civil rights leader and his work.

The program included speeches delivered by MSU Denver President Dr. Janine Davidson and MSU Denver Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Michael Benitez.

“We at MSU Denver, we are proud of our diversity. We are proud that the majority of our students are now students of color. And we are proud that the majority of our students are the first in their families to go to college, overcoming all kinds of barriers along the way,” Davidson said. “Dr. King once said the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character that is the true goal of education.”

The program also included an MLK Peace Awards Ceremony. This year Allison Cotton, Ph.D., Miguel Huerta, Gregor Mieder, Dwinita Mosby Tyler, Ph.D., and Mariana Pascual Miranda were honored.

Carlotta Walls LaNier delivered the keynote address. She is a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine Black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. This was one of the first high schools to integrate following the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) Supreme Court decision.

“I grew up in the Jim Crow South, meaning that I sat in the back of the bus with a sign that said "colored." I saw "colored" signs at the water fountains, which my mother would not allow me to drink from. I could only go to the zoo on certain days of the week, as is if the animals knew the color of my skin. And I could not use the public library, all due to the color of my skin,” LaNier said.

LaNier and her eight school mates first attempted to integrate Little Rock Central on September 4, 1957.

“The National Guard, Arkansas National Guard had been called down, as the governor had stated the night before to protect the citizens of Little Rock. Well, I surely consider myself a citizen of Little Rock,” LaNier said. “We had the Ministerial Alliance of Little Rock that walked with us, which was a mixed group of ministers. We had prayer, walked one block, and we got there. And the commanding officer comes up and tells the white minister to turn around and take these kids back home.”

LaNier described facing violent mobs that included elected officials during other attempts to enter the school. Eventually President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to protect the Little Rock Nine as they entered the high school.

LaNier’s activism would lead her to work with some of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

“All those years ago, I met Martin Luther King,” LaNier said. “I knew King before he was King as we know it today. So lesson here, pay attention to what's happening before your own eyes.”

LaNier would go on to graduate from the University of Northern Colorado, where she currently serves on the board of trustees. She is also a Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame inductee.