Member of Little Rock Nine shares experiences of segregation
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 00:02
Roberts was a member the Little Rock Nine. In 1957, The Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African American students helped to desegregate Little Rock Central High School.
Director of the WVU Center for Black Culture & Research, Marjorie Fuller said she was excited for the opportunity to hear from a man who was monumental in African American history .
"It’s an amazing opportunity to meet someone whose memory and vision are still so clear about his experiences in Little Rock. He’s a walking and talking piece of history," Fuller said. "I couldn’t be more thrilled to be in his presence."
During his presentations, Roberts shared a glimpse into his life as a black student during a time of segregation.
"I was a good student. I learned the rules of segregation and obeyed them," he said.
Roberts said experiences from his youth are what sparked his desire to stop obeying the segregation rules.
"When I was 13, I loved eating at Crystal Burger, so I walked in and ordered my food to go. Unthinkingly, I sat down. Upon reflection of the place, it was almost empty. However, everyone stopped what they were doing and was onto what Terry Roberts was doing," he said.
Roberts said this event caused him to want to bring about change.
He knew that something was not right.
When Roberts was a boy, he said his district school authorities addressed his school and said they needed students to begin desegregation. Roberts said 150 people, including himself raised their hands; however, the administration only took nine.
"I had to raise my hand, because this was the opportunity to change the way things were. When you live under those conditions for 15 years. It doesn’t feel right and change is necessary," he said. "They said, ‘you kids have to take an executive responsibility of learning.’ You have become the CEO of your own independent learning enterprise."
Roberts said the Little Rock Nine had half of the African American community supporting them and half the community concerned.
"My parents said, ‘we will support your decision 100 percent.’ It was remarkable. I was prepared to argue my point and didn’t have to," Roberts said. "However, Black people in Little Rock lost jobs and opportunities because we were in school there."
Roberts said he felt it was clear the Little Rock Nine were not welcome upon their arrival on the first day Little Rock Central High.
"We show up, and the opposition was there in the form of the Arkansas National Guard. They didn’t speak to us, so I got in line. I stepped back and looked left. I saw students entering at another entrance. I got in line again. I then realized that we were not welcome. These kids were vicious."
Roberts said the year he spent at Little Rock Central High was filled with hatred, which lead him to re-evaluate his decision.
"I’d wake up every morning with the thought, ‘Do I have to go back?’ I’d go to school fearful and angry," he said.
Many WVU students said they enjoyed the presentation and found Roberts’ story as an inspiration to their own lives.
"I’m doing my minor in African studies, and I like Black History so much that I study it on my own," said Prarissa Rogers, president of Omicron Upsilon Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., "Dr. Roberts reminds me of myself, because he is one of those people that wanted to do work to make a difference."
WVU student Kimelle Ash said she found encouragement in Roberts’ presentation that she will carry over into her own struggles.
"I’m really glad I came because I got assurance that I can prosper through any little racial insensitivities that I may encounter in life," she said.