One of the Nine

BY ROY ADAMS, associate editor of Adventist Review                                                            [ Main Story ]

very country has its ugly underbelly. And in the case of the United States a part of that dark side has to do with its record on race relations. Long after slavery formally ended in the 1860s, evil elements inherited from that wicked era lingered in society, as evidenced in the main story we carry here, featuring Dr. Terrence Roberts.

Roberts, one of seven children, was born to William and Margaret Roberts in the town of Little Rock, Arkansas, December 3, 1941. He recently told a group of young students at Marshall School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that even as a 9-year-old, he puzzled over segregation based on race. “It made no sense to me,” he said (The Patriot News, Nov. 29, 2007, p. B1). As a 15-year-old in 1957, he was one of nine students who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School, stirring up deep resentment among the White townsfolk, and inadvertently catapulting themselves into national prominence.

Twenty-two years later, Roberts would confront the man who was Arkansas’ governor at the time and the most powerful opponent of integration. “I really feel,” Roberts said to him in a face-to-face meeting on ABC’s Good Morning, America, “[that] it was a violation of public trust to practice your own personal policies of racism in that position. You endangered not only my life, but the lives of hundreds of other people, both Black and White” (see Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture). 

Roberts, a Pasadena (California) resident, currently serves as a professor at Antioch University (Los Angeles campus). A clinical psychologist by profession, he runs in addition what he calls “a macro practice,” meaning that “I work with larger organizations rather than small groups of people,” he said. In that regard, he travels across the U.S. and makes visits to other countries helping companies and other organizations manage their people problems. He’s done work for entities such as the FBI, the IRS, Coca-Cola, and the Gloucestershire Constabulary in England.

Looking back, Roberts sees it as remarkable that each of the Little Rock Nine has made something of their life. “And we’re all still alive,” he notes with a chuckle, “which is also remarkable, especially since the odds on us surviving that experience were not very good.” In 1999 President Bill Clinton presented the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award, to members of the Little Rock Nine.

Roberts and his wife, Rita, have two (adult) daughters. Rita is chair of the History Department at Scripps College.

As we sat down to dinner at our hotel the evening of the interview, I could see eyes and faces turned our way, waiters and patrons stealing glances at someone they’d read about in their history books and whose photo had appeared in their local paper that day. And as folk came forward to shake his hand as we were leaving, he took it all in stride—no fuss, no airs.


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