Terrence Roberts speaks at Antelope Valley College
‘Little Rock Nine’ member will discuss desegregation
Although most school districts in the United States at least attempted to integrate, some districts tried to avoid it, especially those in the South. One of the most famous cases of integration was the story of the “Little Rock Nine,” which took place in Little Rock, Ark.
Governor Orval Faubus had the National Guard prevent nine Black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock, because he did not want to integrate the city’s schools. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower heard of this, he sent U.S. federal troops to protect the nine Black teenagers. The year was 1957.
Fifty-three years after helping make history as one of the “Little Rock Nine,” Terrence Roberts will discuss the lessons learned from the landmark school desegregation event, when he visits Antelope Valley College May 11 at 2 p.m.
Roberts will conduct a free public talk on “What Lessons We Can Learn from Little Rock” in the campus cafeteria, located in the Student Center on the south side of the school.
The psychologist will talk about his experiences and the effects of racism on everyday life as well as the lessons he learned, particularly why it is necessary to accept and embrace differences and diversity.
Roberts was 15 years old in the autumn of 1957, when he and eight other Black students walked onto the campus of Central High School. Their presence came in wake of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education which made institutional segregation illegal across the U.S.
With the backing of President Eisenhower and federal troops, the nine—Roberts, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, Melba Pattillo, and Carlotta Walls—were allowed to enroll for the 1957-58 school year.
The nine, selected from among 80 candidates from African American schools within Central’s attendance area, were selected as the best able to withstand the physical and verbal abuse they were expected to receive.
On Monday, Sept. 23, 1957, the nine youngsters set off for high school. They knew there would be violence, so they went through the rear entrance. White mobs were there to protest, because they wanted no Black students at the school. Black reporters were also there to record the event. The White mobs that were waiting for the nine students beat up the Black reporters, because they did not want them near the school. When the mob found out that the Black students had entered the school, there was bedlam around the campus. Eventually protesters entered the school, and the Black students exited out the rear again, so they would not get hurt.
To make sure the Little Rock Nine completed a “successful” day of school, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. Each of the nine students had their own patroller to walk with them to and during school, but Whites still harassed them. They stabbed Pattillo and sprayed acid into her eyes. Had it not been for the 101st patroller throwing water over her eyes, she would have been blind for life.
After a few weeks, the patrollers left and the students had to protect themselves. Enduring violent assaults, racial taunts, and vile behavior was the reality of the Little Rock Nine. Of the African American students, only Brown broke code and defended herself. First, she was suspended for dumping a bowl of chili on two White boys who insulted her. She was ultimately expelled for calling a White girl “White trash.”
None of the White students who antagonized her were suspended. She and her family moved to New York City and she graduated from New Lincoln School and was later accepted to Southern Illinois University.
In the aftermath of the turbulent 1957-58 school year, Little Rock residents overwhelmingly voted to close the city’s public schools in the autumn of 1958. The schools stayed closed for an entire academic school year, before the closure was overturned in federal court.
Although all nine graduated from high school and many of them went to college, only three participated in graduation ceremonies from Central High School.
Roberts eventually moved with his family to Los Angeles. He enrolled and graduated from Los Angeles High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Los Angeles; a master’s degree from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA); and a doctorate in psychology from Southern Illinois University.
After he received his doctorate, Roberts moved to Napa Valley and directed the mental health unit of St. Helena Hospital in Deer Park for 10 years. He then joined the UCLA School of Social Welfare as assistant dean.
In 1994, he became department chair of the psychology program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Currently, he is a faculty member at Antioch and travels extensively as an in-demand speaker and consultant.
Roberts serves on the boards of the Economic Resource Center in Southern California, Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, Eisenhower World Affairs Institute, and the Little Rock Nine Foundation.