News and Events
Terrence Roberts Comes to Pepperdine to Speak About His Big Role in Civil Rights History
Nine African American teenagers stood at the threshold of Little Rock High School in Arkansas, flanked on all sides by the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. The year was was September 1957 and while angry crowds shouted insults at the first black students to enter the recently desegregated school, they stepped across the entrance and straight in to the pages of Civil Rights history.
Nearly 52 years later, Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine, as they became known, will come to Smothers Theatre, Malibu, to share the story of how he abruptly became one the teenage faces of the Civil Rights Movement. His presentation will begin at
2 p.m., on Wednesday, Apr. 22.
Roberts' story begins in 1954, with the Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which desegregated public schools. Three years later, the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, deployed the National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering the all-white school. Just 15-years-old at the time, Roberts' face appeared in newspapers around the country when President Eisenhower stepped in by federalizing the National Guard, stripping Faubus of his powers over the Guard. Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army to protect the nine students as they enacted their educational rights as American citizens.
Just three years after the events at Little Rock High, Jeff Banks, director of the Social Action and Justice (SAAJ) Colloquium at Seaver College, was stationed with the U.S. Army in the neighboring state of Georgia. He recalls sharing a bunk on the integrated military base with a black soldier, while being forced to use separate facilities in a nearby segregated town. He notes that this was less than 50 years ago, saying, "I'm old, but I'm not that old. We've come a long way."
"It's easy to think that racism is over," says Larisa Hamada, the director of equal opportunities at Pepperdine. She says of Roberts' presentation: "This is an opportunity for students to understand and gain awareness that it wasn't so long ago that schools were segregated."
Banks refers to Roberts as a "living piece of history." He invited Roberts to share his story with the undergraduate members of SAAJ and the rest of the Pepperdine community, for the opportunity to interact with someone who helped fundamentally change society.
"What was that experience like?" asks Banks, hypothetically. "It's almost as if someone was there when Lincoln was around. When I talk to students about Vietnam, it's like talking to them about the Civil War. But to see and hear a living piece of American history is something to tell your children and grandchildren about."
Roberts moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, when Little Rock High School was closed as a reaction against integration. He went on to earn his bachelor's in sociology, a master's in social welfare, and a doctorate in psychology. Today he is a retired professor and the CEO of management-consulting firm, Terrence J. Roberts & Associates.
"He appears to be a very humble man," says Banks. "He doesn't want the 'frou frou' that goes with being one of the Little Rock Nine, he just wants to give his message. In previous talks he has also spoken about other groups that were marginalized besides African Americans."
More than 50 years later, the Little Rock Nine are esteemed for their courage as teenage icons of the fight for racial equality. "It cuts across everything, whether Republican or Democrat," says Banks. "It's about social justice, and shows how far we've come. I also want those who attend to know that other groups have been and are being marginalized and that it's the job of the good citizen to fight for human rights."
The event is organized by the Social Action and Justice program in conjunction with the Humanities and Teacher Education Division. SAAJ is a four-course, interdisciplinary program focused on issues of social justice such as human rights, wealth and poverty, the interplay of religion and culture, and the role of media in shaping social movements. The program includes historical, theoretical and practical perspectives on social issues, providing knowledge and opportunities for social action to students interested in a variety of vocations, and encourages students to reflect on how their choices of world view and vocation will affect their lives and society in the twenty-first century.
For more information about this event, contact SAAJ at (310) 506-7231.