By Candice Evans
The Daily Times
SALISBURY -- Terrence Roberts, one of the "Little Rock Nine" and the official desegregation consultant for the Little Rock School District since 1998, reflected on the state of diversity in schools as this year's E. Pauline Riall Lecturer.
"For a long time, this country was convinced that separating groups of people was a moral, desired, constitutional thing to do," Roberts said Tuesday evening.
Salisbury University's Holloway Hall Auditorium was packed with students and community members eager to learn more about his experiences during the 1957 desegregation process in Little Rock, Ark.
"We had to fight our way through every day," Roberts said. "The year was in a word, hellish."
Nine African-American students -- known historically as the "Little Rock Nine" -- were the first to be admitted to the newly segregated Central High School, despite efforts by the Arkansas National Guard to keep them out.
Roberts, who was 15 years old at the time, said they were beaten down physically and psychologically.
"The mob never left," he said. "They had to stay on the scene."
President Eisenhower eventually requested the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to ensure the students' safety during the tumultuous period. Salisbury resident and guest of honor David Miller was 20 years old when he was sent to Little Rock.
"The main feeling was fear," Roberts said. "I never knew if I was going to be able to stay alive."
He also felt despair.
"Nobody seemed to be concerned about education," Roberts said.
Now 50 years later, he heads a management consulting group dedicated to improving human relations in the workplace and serves as a diversity consultant for school districts throughout the United States.
"Things have changed not all that much," he said. "Fundamentally the attitudes and thought patterns are pretty much the same."
Roberts is chairman of the master's in psychology program at Antioch University. A graduate of California State University and the University of California, Los Angeles, he obtained his Ph.d. in psychology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Roberts said we need to develop more awareness and work on the problems of "difference" between one another.
"We simply have to learn to embrace and honor it," he said.
Fortunately, Roberts has noticed some change with younger generations.
"Students can demand the opportunities to learn," he said. "(Teachers can) if they chose to."
Roberts suggests school systems learn to be more creative with their teaching methods.
"I think students are short-changed a lot," he said. "Assumptions are made about the capacity to learn."
Roberts said some schools don't provide the resources for students, especially for underprivileged children.
"For the masses, it's hit or miss," he said.
Reprinted with permission of The Daily Times