UPDATE: Fifty years ago this week, Cal State L.A. alumnus Terrence Roberts (Â67) was one of nine African American high school students who made civil rights history by spearheading the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in the face of the extreme racial hostility and the Arkansas governorÂs defiance of a federal order. This week the so-called ÂLittle Rock NineÂ is reuniting at Central High; and the legacy of their courage is being celebrated in a gala chaired by former President Bill Clinton. This profile of Roberts appeared in the Spring/Summer 2003 issue of Cal State L.A. TODAY.
A civil rights action that
awoke a national conscience
Imagine needing armed guards
to enter your high school just
because of the color of your skin.
ÂI was scared out of my wits,Â
says Terrence Roberts, B.A. Â67, one
of nine African American students to
boldly enter Central High School in
Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. ÂBut fear
itself has never been a deterrent for me.
Fear cannot stop you.Â
Although he was only 15, Roberts, with the support of
his parents, made the courageous decision to enter Central
High under the watch of armed guards. Up until this time,
students were unwelcome at public high schools because
of their skin color. Segregation was common until a landmark
1954 Supreme Court decision (Brown v. Board of Education)
declared it Âinherently unequalÂ to maintain separate schools
for different races.
Despite this ruling, racial segregation continued on many
campuses, including Central High School. When the nine
students attempted to exercise their right to attend, ArkansasÂ
governor called out the stateÂs National Guard. But President
Eisenhower responded immediately by sending troops to
enforce the federal integration order.
Nearly every day during the 1957-58 school year, these
students, who later became known as the ÂLittle Rock 9,Â
withstood a barrage of insults, harassment and physical
danger just to attend school every day. Their actions would
pave the way for desegregation across the nation.
ÂI was keenly aware that legalized discrimination made no
A civil rights action that awoke a national conscience
I sense,Â Roberts said recently. ÂI knew
that I needed to be involved in
something to change this. People had
died in the struggle for civil rights, and
I felt that I had to do something.Â
It is this pioneering attitude that has
earned the Cal State L.A. alumnus
several honors and awards, including
the Congressional Gold Medal,
presented to the Little Rock 9 at a
White House ceremony in 1999 for their Âselfless heroismÂ in
the face of racial intolerance.
Today, Roberts is a licensed clinical psychologist, and
the chief executive officer of Terrence J. Roberts and
Associates, which provides consultation in many areas,
including management, effective communication and
developing multicultural awareness. ÂI had intended to become
an academic,Â Roberts says. ÂBut I later became interested in
social work, and that led me to psychology.Â
When examining the behavior of those who tried to prevent
integration, he says, ÂThey firmly believed that what they were
doing was the right thing. They chose to believe it in order to
avoid cognitive dissonance.Â
Roberts, who believes that education is a great equalizer,
was instrumental in establishing the Little Rock 9
Foundation, which provides student scholarships.
ÂEducation is the way we become aware of opportunities,Â
he says. ÂIt is how we expand our awareness of what the
universe holds for us.Â
For more about the Little Rock Nine, go to http://www.littlerock9.com/.
Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los AngelesÂ civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 200,000 alumniÂwith a wide variety of interests, ages and backgroundsÂreflect the cityÂs dynamic mix of populations. Six colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Among programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, to be housed in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center. www.calstatela.edu
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