A member of the Little Rock Nine told the Black History assembly Jan. 21 about enduring a year of abuse in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 when he was a junior in high school.
Dr. Terrence Roberts said that racism continues to be an ideology ingrained in society but that race itself is a mythological concept.
“I had stepped into a drama that was already underway,” Roberts said about being born as a black male in Little Rock in 1941.
As a boy, Roberts was drawn to learning the roots of racism towards African-Americans. He traced it back to 1619, when the first ship was brought to America with Africans to be used as slaves. He said that this concept of white people seeing blacks as inferior was unchallenged until 1954, when the Supreme Court ordered school integration in Brown vs. Board of Education.
When you treat a group of people one way for 335 years, you become good at it, Roberts explained.
Roberts attended Little Rock High School with eight other African-Americans. They faced a daily struggle of violence and hatred toward their being there.
White students got up and refused to be in the same class as them, and Roberts’ English teacher asked him why he even wanted to go to “her school” instead of “his school” Roberts said.
At the end of the year, the governor of Arkansas closed the school, and Roberts moved in with relatives in Los Angeles, finishing his high school education at Los Angeles High School.
When he was 6, his first grade teacher told her class that students are in charge of their own education, and Roberts committed himself to learning, saying that he developed the Terrance Roberts Learning Academy.
Roberts said his mother taught him that he should not pay attention to what other people thought of him.
“Other people’s thoughts of you belong to them. They are not definitive of you,” Roberts said.
Roberts continues to experience the racism that is ingrained in the culture of our country, giving an example from 1988 when he moved into a mainly white neighborhood in Pasadena and faced hostility.
Roberts stressed that race is a mythological concept, not based in biology or science, that everyone is individually unique and merely a product of their ancestors rather than race.