Study Guide

Terrence Roberts in Executive Order 10730: Little Rock Nine

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

Terrence Roberts

"The intent on the part of the opposition [in Little Rock] was to kill us," said Terrence Roberts. "They said as much. They said, 'We would rather see you dead than see you in our school'" (source).

It was a sobering, but not surprising reality to Roberts. "Every possible decision had a racial component: where you could live, where you could to go to school, whether you could work or not, whether you could get a bank loan…who you could marry. This made no sense to me." (source)

So Roberts chose to try to change the status quo by enrolling at Central High School for his junior year. That set him on an unexpected path: "My choice of profession, clinical psychology, is probably a direct result of having been here, seeing so many crazy people, trying to figure out, what makes these folk operate in the universe? And how do you fix your face to twist it in such contorted fashion to give us messages of hate?" (source)

Fifty years after Little Rock, Roberts was still asking those questions. "A lot of changes have occurred," he said. "But I see those mainly as surface changes. I often talk about it as being a thin veneer of civility, where on the surface […] people are very nice to us. They treat us as if we are really human beings, as opposed to how they treated us in 1957. But I think and feel that, underneath all of that, there's still bubbles, some unanswered questions about who we are as a nation of people." (source)

Roberts, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton, often speaks about his experiences in Little Rock. He works with businesses on racial and ethnic diversity issues and conflict resolution.