If Carlotta Walls was strong enough to live through it, the kids are strong enough to learn about it.
By: Charles P. Pierce/Esquire
Forty-two years ago , a bomb went off at a house at 1600 Valentine Street in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nobody was injured until the police showed up. Then they beat hell out of the man who lived there in an attempt to blackjack a confession out of him. They later went on to arrest two young Black men and charged them with the bombing of the home of Carlotta Walls, one of the Little Rock Nine. The man the police beat was her father. The two kids they busted were kids she knew. And, until this past Wednesday, I didn’t know any of this.
I mean, I knew about the Little Rock Nine, the courageous students who helped integrate Central High School in that city. I knew about how the governor of Arkansas defied the authority of the federal courts so blatantly that even President Dwight Eisenhower was moved to send troops. I learned all this in school, where the episode was taught as a kind of American morality tale in which good triumphed over a vaguely defined evil, as it always did in the land of the free. Somehow, they never got around to telling me the story about how Carlotta Walls’s house was bombed, and her father beaten by the police, and two of her friends dubiously arrested. They never got around to telling me about the white-supremacist bombing campaign that had coincided with the opening of the school year, or about the toothless sentencing of the men behind it.
I learned all of this 42 years later, this week, from an entry in an online calendar of the Civil Rights Movement published by Bryan Stevenson’s irreplaceable Equal Justice Initiative that popped up on the electric Twitter machine. That led to further research. From the Arkansas Times:
The investigation into Klan activities that night led one member to suggest that kids were probably responsible. The bombs were amateurish; the explosive load was low. The FBI took this suggestion seriously and immediately turned their attention to a group of white students at Central. The first police reports noted that there were a number of white teenagers in the vicinity of the house when the bombing occurred. Several people mentioned a dark vehicle with two or three white kids rushing away right after the bombing. Within 48 hours of the explosion, the FBI had obtained a full list of chemistry students in Junior Johnson’s chemistry class at Central, a group that included Carlotta Walls. That class had recently learned about explosives.
But something changed the focus of the investigation, and the police began to create a fictitious narrative that would help them implicate [Maceo] Binns, [Herbert] Monts and, if they could, Cartelyou Walls, whom local police now accused of arranging to bomb his own home while his family slept.
Something happened. Something always happened. Something always changed. The Little Rock police carefully crafted a salable narrative—salable in 1959, for sure. They frightened a young Black man into implicating Herbert Monts and Maceo Binns, two Black teenagers who were neighbors and classmates of Carlotta Binns.
There was no evidence that Monts and Binns committed the crime; all evidence pointed in other directions. White kids at Central had just learned about using black powder to make explosives. Two young white men had recently checked out chemistry books from a local library about making explosives. One white teenager admitted to friends that he regularly made bombs and used them to have fun. He was overheard by Carlotta Walls. And, perhaps most shockingly, the chemistry teacher at Central admitted that his lessons dealt with explosives such as black powder, smokeless powder and nitroglycerin. The textbook he used had the formula and the percentages of each chemical one would use to make a bomb, and the chemistry lab at school contained all of the materials to make a bomb. And then he admitted to teaching a large group of white teenagers, after school, how to make explosives.
Both Binns and Monts were convicted, but the investigation was such a farce that Binns’ conviction was thrown out on appeal. Monts went to prison but served only 20 months because Governor Orval Faubus quietly ordered his release after the dust had settled. Monts was formally pardoned by the state of Arkansas in 2018.
I mention all of this because it is not what I was taught at any point in my academic career, and it’s the kind of history that ridiculous people in ridiculous places want to pass laws against teaching. As someone pointed out on the electric Twitter machine, if people like Carlotta Walls were strong enough to live through it, your little Trey or Madison is strong enough to learn about it. It is all of our history, and those who would bury it are thieves of our past, and of ourselves.