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A Conversation with Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine

Terrence Roberts in 1957 and 2012

This program originally aired on April 3, 2018.

Just over sixty years ago in September of 1957, Terrence Roberts and eight other young people became the first African American students at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. These nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, faced mobs of angry protesters as they tried to enter the school.

After several weeks of resistance from both the state and the community, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent U.S. Army troops to accompany the students to school for protection. However, the Little Rock Nine continued to face violence and discrimination once inside Central High.

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Roberts, author of Lessons From Little Rock and Simple Not Easy: Reflections on Community, Social Responsibility and Tolerance, about his experience as part of the Little Rock Nine.

“We suffered a lot, from day one through the end of our school year,” Roberts says. “It wasn’t the easiest of tasks, to put it mildly. In fact, how we survived is something that I think about now and wonder, how on earth did that happen?”

Despite these immense challenges, a commitment to his education has carried throughout Roberts’ life.

“I take it to be my essential task in life to learn,” Roberts says. “It’s fascinating what happens when you start on that course because you begin to understand what the possibilities are. You begin to understand what options are available.”

After his high school experience, Roberts went on to earn a PhD in psychology and had a distinguished career as a professor. He and the other members of the Little Rock Nine received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bill Clinton in 1999. He is now CEO of Terrence Roberts Consulting, a management-consulting firm.

His advice to those who want to create change in their communities is simple:

“Start treating every other person in the universe as your peer. Not looking up to anybody, not looking down to anybody, seeing everyone on eye-to-eye level, and accepting the differences you see,” Roberts says. “See people. That’s what I would say as a bottom line principle. That’s where we start; we start by seeing each other as peers.”

Roberts will speak at Coe College on Friday, April 6, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Coe College Athletics and Recreation Complex, rooms 208A and 209A.  The presentation is free and open to the public.