Little Rock Nine member visits Houston

by Cierra Duncan

The nine African-American students enrolled in a Little Rock, Ark. high school in 1957 played an integral role in the Civil Rights Movement. Their desegregation of the school made national headlines and became a defining moment in Black history.

Dr. Terrence Roberts, a member of the Little Rock Nine, spoke from his memoir “Lessons from Little Rock” during a recent trip to Houston. His appearance was sponsored by the Ant-Defamation League, Southwest Region.

Roberts, now 72, lives in Pasadena, Calif., and is the CEO of a management consultant firm devoted to fair and equitable practices. He maintains a private psychology practice and presents workshops and lectures on an array of topics.

During his Houston appearance, he talked about the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which resulted in the Little Rock crisis. The court ruled that separate school systems based on race were unconstitutional and violated the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“It was an important marker in time and space because the law was now on my side,” Roberts said. “Regardless of what you think about the law, regardless of whether you think it’s just or fair or needful, it is now written. The law now supports Terry Roberts. I had prepared my whole life up to that point for it.”

Once Brown v. Board of Education became law, Roberts said he no longer felt he had to remain subdued about his beliefs on equality. When NAACP representatives asked local students to help integrate Central High School, he was one of 150 students who initially volunteered. The number soon dwindled to nine.

“We quickly found out that we were not loved as a group, primarily by the governor,” Roberts recalled.

Little Rock Nine Students with Daisy Bates

Little Rock Nine Students with Daisy Bates

Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus defied the Supreme Court’s ruling and placed the National Guard at the school’s front entrance to stop the Black students from entering the building. They were not able to attend school until the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne were brought in as escorts due to the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Racism continued

“Once we finally got into school, white kids in the school got up and walked out of the class each time we walked in,” Roberts said. “I thought that was odd because I was so in love with education, I could not conceive of a moment that I would leave an institution designed to help me in that enterprise.”

Roberts, who was 15 when he entered Central High, said he initially believed the racism would diminish due to fewer students in the classroom. He soon found out that those students who remained would be “more fierce” in their actions towards them.

“We were attacked daily,” he said. “Without the presence of military, I don’t think any of us would have made it through.”

The students were recruited by Daisy Bates, president of the NAACP Arkansas chapter and a Black newspaper publisher. Bates’ home became headquarters for the school integration battle and she remained a supporter of the students.

At the end of the school year, eight of the “Little Rock Nine” remained at Central High. Minnijean Brown was expelled due to fighting. This caused the remaining students to recommit to their vow of nonviolence.

“Once you understand there’s a bigger principle at stake, you can consider giving up violence,” Roberts said.

At the beginning of the following school year, Faubus closed all Arkansas schools in an attempt to stop desegregation. Roberts did not want his education to be hindered so he moved with relatives to California and completed his senior year in Los Angeles.

“My first grade teacher said you must become CEO of your own independent learning enterprise and I took her up on that,” he said. “I became CEO of the ‘Terry Roberts Learning Institute’ and I have not given that up.”

In 1967 Roberts received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from California State University. He earned a master’s in social welfare from UCLA in 1970 and a doctorate in psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1976.

Roberts serves on the Board of the Economics Resources Center in Southern California, the Western Justice Center Foundation, and the Little Rock Nine Foundation.

He is the recipient of the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal and the Congressional Gold Medal for his courageousness in Little Rock.

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 14 (February 6, 2014) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.


Jones High supporters oppose school closure

by Cierra Duncan

Concerned parents, students and community members recently gathered at Jones High School to discuss the school’s future. Supporters want Jones to stay open, and asked HISD to consider other options.

Jones is one of five under-enrolled HISD schools being considered for closure or repurposing at the end of the school year. According to the district, the proposed plan will allow enrollment and resources to be better distributed across campuses.

“Roughly 2,000 children are zoned to Jones High School but only an estimated 440 students are currently enrolled,” explained Michael Cardona, HISD’s interim chief high schools officer.

“When you want to offer services such as electives and [advanced placement] courses, it becomes more difficult the smaller the school gets.”

If Jones is closed, students would be re-zoned to Sterling or Worthing High Schools. Some supporters believe HISD has not considered students and parents in the proposed closure.

“HISD wants to know how to bring children back to the school but they haven’t asked the community,” said Assata Richards, vice chair of the Houston Housing Authority. “If you don’t ask your consumers that question, how do you create a product that your consumers want?”

Another Jones supporter, a concerned parent, said HISD should invest in the community.

“In the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ there is a quote that says ‘If you build it they will come.’ There is no building in our community, and because there is no building they are not coming,” the parent said. “You all are going to have to step out on faith and money and invest in our community.”

Other supporters said HISD should bring work training and college preparatory programs back to the campus.
The community’s feedback and the proposed closures will be presented to the HISD Board of Education on Feb. 20.

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 15 (February 13, 2014) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.