In September 1957, nine African-American students walked into history books when they enrolled in the previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. The group of students, who became known as the “Little Rock Nine” were part of the civil rights movement to integrate schools following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education.
On the first day of school, hundreds of people surrounded Central High to physically prevent the “Little Rock Nine” from entering the school. One of those nine students, Dr. Terrence Roberts, said the message from the crowd was “You leave voluntarily, or we will kill you.” In the weeks that followed, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent U.S. Army soldiers to escort the nine students to school.
Today, Dr. Roberts’s grandson attends culturally diverse East Cobb Middle School. Dr. Roberts recently visited his grandson’s school to talk about his pivotal role in the civil rights movement. While detailing some of the struggles he endured to get an education, Dr. Roberts encouraged the East Cobb students to take an active part in their education.
“He advised us that some of us don’t see the importance of education, and so we are just wasting it unlike he had to work for it,” said East Cobb eighth grader Asanda. “I didn’t see the rights and privileges that I actually have until he came and talked to us. I see that education isn’t something that is given. Some people actually had to earn it.”
The students listened as Dr. Roberts talked about how he pushed for an education despite all the obstacles including community members and even teachers who didn’t want him to succeed. The East Cobb students said Dr. Roberts was brave.
“People threatened his life, tried to hurt him,” Asanda added. “He had so much hate on him, and he preserved through it all and just looked at his goal, and his goal was to get an education. I thought that was amazing.”
Fellow eighth grader, Owen, described Dr. Roberts’ positive attitude as inspiring.
The eighth graders also felt honored that Dr. Roberts traveled from California to Marietta. to speak to them about the value of education. There was one part of education that Dr. Roberts stressed to the students.
“He talked about how reading is very important,” said eighth grader Oscar.
He told the students to increase their knowledge by setting the goal to read one book each week.
As the students listened, their teachers did too. The teachers skipped their planning periods to hear Dr. Roberts talk about his history-making past. For East Cobb Principal Leetonia Young, who is a native of Little Rock, his visit had extra significance. Principal Young labeled Dr. Roberts “a living icon of American History.”
“The fact that his grandchildren are here in this very diverse [Cobb County School District] is a great tribute,” said Principal Young. “He helped to start that movement [towards diversity] in the late 1950’s.”
Adding to what they learned from Dr. Roberts, the East Cobb eighth graders will soon travel to the Center for Civil and Human Rights: Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta.