Some of the details of that day are fuzzy for Terrence Roberts, but he does remember the fear he felt when an angry crowd of white people confronted him on Sept. 25, 1957.
And he was just trying to go to high school.
Roberts and Carlotta Walls LaNier were two of the nine black teenagers who integrated the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark, in 1957. The group of young civil rights pioneers became known as the “Little Rock Nine.”
Monday, Roberts, 72, and LaNier, 71, shared stories of their experience with students at Oklahoma Christian University. The pair spoke in several OC classes and gave an evening presentation that was open to the community called “History Speaks: Little Rock Nine.”
The Little Rock Nine had to be escorted by the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to get into Central High, as per President Dwight Eisenhower's order. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, had ordered the Arkansas National Guard to keep the black students out of the school.
Both Roberts and LaNier said they made no special preparations for that first day of school, in terms of dealing with hostile crowds because neither of them expected the events that unfolded that now are a part of American history. LaNier, then known as the youngest member of the group, 14-year-old Carlotta Walls, said she bought a new blue dress to wear because she was excited to be going to Central High after a long period of not knowing if the opportunity would ever come.
“We were denied entry for so long that I felt like I was going to have to be that ‘super negro’ once I did get into school,” she said, referring to the perception that a black person had to work twice as hard as a white person for the same opportunities.
“I knew that I could compete given the same opportunities as the next person, but as the days went by, I thought I was getting further and further behind and I didn't like that.”
Roberts was a 15-year-old junior in 1957. He said he was shocked by the hostile crowd he and his eight companions encountered as they made their way to the school.
“I was surprised by the intensity of the opposition. People were out in force and they were determined to block our entrance into school. More than that, they were intent upon killing us if we didn't comply,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he immediately began to formulate a way to get away from them.
“When you grow up, especially in that region of the country, you learn very quickly the skills of survival, so part of what I was doing in the face of that tremendous opposition was seeking an escape route — a way out,” he said.
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