Little Rock Nine Student Calls For Overhauling Public Education | KUOW News and Information

Little Rock Nine Student Calls For Overhauling Public Education

Jun 15, 2015

Terrence Roberts didn’t hesitate when volunteers were sought to integrate an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"We had lived so long under the aegis of separate but equal," says Roberts, who was in Seattle last week to address graduates of the University of Washington School of Social Work.

In September 1957, black and white schools in Little Rock were by no means equal in quality. So a year after being recruited from an all-black middle school, Roberts registered as a student at all-white Central High.

Archive photos show Roberts and his eight fellow students walking through a phalanx of angry people, jeering and spitting at the teenagers.

"The governor had called out the National Guard," Roberts remembers. "Ostensibly to keep the peace. But basically, their orders were 'no black people allowed.'"

The students were turned away. After several weeks, and the protection of federal troops, the Little Rock Nine finally made it inside Central High School.

But Roberts didn't end up finishing his high school education in Little Rock.

Tensions continued to escalate in Arkansas, and officials eventually shut down the public schools. Roberts and his family moved to the Los Angeles area, where he graduated high school and went on to earn a doctorate in psychology.

Although Roberts frequently talks with school children about slavery and its legacy in America, he dismisses the suggestion that he work in public education.

At 73, he has abounding passion, and energy, to spark conversations about diversity and identity in the United States.

Roberts believes it's not enough simply to integrate students from different backgrounds, although that's the first step.

Roberts would like to see a total overhaul of this country's public education system, from structure to curricula.

Roberts remembers that as a fourth-grader, he was taught about Manifest Destiny.

"That concept that said it was the Manifest Destiny of European settlers to occupy this country,” he said. “That sort of stuff is still being taught."

'Testament,' a statue honoring the Little Rock Nine, who tried to integrate an all-white high school in 1957. The Little Rock Nine were: Terrence Roberts, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo.
Credit Flickr photo/Cliff

Photo credit: "Testament" by Cliff on flickr (CC By 2.0)