Little Rock Nine's 50th Anniversary

Black and gold graphic bar
Sept. 24, 2007

Sean Kearns
Media Relations Director
(323) 343-3050

Margie Low
Public Affairs Specialist
(323) 343-3047



Cal State L.A. 
Office of Public Affairs 
(323) 343-3050 
Fax: (323) 343-6405

UPDATE: Fifty years ago this week, Cal State L.A. alumnus Terrence Roberts (’67) was one of nine African American high school students who made civil rights history by spearheading the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in the face of the extreme racial hostility and the Arkansas governor’s defiance of a federal order. This week the so-called “Little Rock Nine” is reuniting at Central High; and the legacy of their courage is being celebrated in a gala chaired by former President Bill Clinton. This profile of Roberts appeared in the Spring/Summer 2003 issue of Cal State L.A. TODAY.

A civil rights action that
awoke a national conscience

Imagine needing armed guards to enter your high school just because of the color of your skin. “I was scared out of my wits,” says Terrence Roberts, B.A. ’67, one of nine African American students to boldly enter Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. “But fear itself has never been a deterrent for me. Fear cannot stop you.”

Although he was only 15, Roberts, with the support of his parents, made the courageous decision to enter Central High under the watch of armed guards. Up until this time, students were unwelcome at public high schools because of their skin color. Segregation was common until a landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision (Brown v. Board of Education) declared it “inherently unequal” to maintain separate schools for different races.

Despite this ruling, racial segregation continued on many campuses, including Central High School. When the nine students attempted to exercise their right to attend, Arkansas’ governor called out the state’s National Guard. But President Eisenhower responded immediately by sending troops to enforce the federal integration order.

Nearly every day during the 1957-58 school year, these students, who later became known as the “Little Rock 9,” withstood a barrage of insults, harassment and physical danger just to attend school every day. Their actions would pave the way for desegregation across the nation.

“I was keenly aware that legalized discrimination made no A civil rights action that awoke a national conscience I sense,” Roberts said recently. “I knew that I needed to be involved in something to change this. People had died in the struggle for civil rights, and I felt that I had to do something.” It is this pioneering attitude that has earned the Cal State L.A. alumnus several honors and awards, including the Congressional Gold Medal, presented to the Little Rock 9 at a White House ceremony in 1999 for their “selfless heroism” in the face of racial intolerance.

Today, Roberts is a licensed clinical psychologist, and the chief executive officer of Terrence J. Roberts and Associates, which provides consultation in many areas, including management, effective communication and developing multicultural awareness. “I had intended to become an academic,” Roberts says. “But I later became interested in social work, and that led me to psychology.”

When examining the behavior of those who tried to prevent integration, he says, “They firmly believed that what they were doing was the right thing. They chose to believe it in order to avoid cognitive dissonance.”

Roberts, who believes that education is a great equalizer, was instrumental in establishing the Little Rock 9 Foundation, which provides student scholarships. “Education is the way we become aware of opportunities,” he says. “It is how we expand our awareness of what the universe holds for us.”

For more about the Little Rock Nine, go to

Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los Angeles’ civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 200,000 alumni—with a wide variety of interests, ages and backgrounds—reflect the city’s dynamic mix of populations. Six colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Among programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, to be housed in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.

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