Recalling Little Rock Nine, Terrence Roberts put a face to history

BP Photo by Leona Fallas

LIVING HISTORY: Dr. Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine reminisced May 13 about his difficult high school years with warmth and a smile.

Jaclyn Kellner, Community Editor

Dr. Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine — nine students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School after the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional — told around 200 students, staff and parents of the power of human will in the face of injustice at in the Beit Midrash on the evening of May 13.

“I discovered there was no such thing as race,” Dr. Roberts said, recalling his childhood in strictly segregated Arkansas. After that, he said, “I could no longer in good conscience follow the rules of segregation. I realized that would put me at great risk because I would be in situations that were foreign to me.” 

But he didn’t mind the risks and neither did his parents, he said. When it came time to desegregate Little Rock Central, a lot of people wanted to go; in the end only nine did. Some were scared themselves, and others’ parents wouldn’t let them.

“It was a year of torment, including physical attacks,” he said.  The worst was when his P.E. teacher didn’t stop his cohorts from hurting him intentionally.

In a question and answer session that comprised most of the evening, many people asked how he could deal with so much hate being thrust upon him as a high school student. Dr. Roberts said he gained strength from the spiritual connection he felt to all the other people who suffered through the same if not more hate for the same goal of equality.  

Dr. Roberts was very cheerful and upbeat despite the serious topic.  

He said he tried to think of all of the hate toward him as reflecting on those exhibiting it, instead of as a direct insult to him, often by grading insults one-to-10 on a scale of creativity.

“No one ever got more than a ‘one,’” Dr. Roberts chuckled.

The Beit Midrash was overflowing with people eager to hear Dr. Roberts’ story. Even after he cajoled latecomers into filling the dreaded front-row seats, there were people standing in the back.  Many teachers had offered students academic incentives for attendance, and it was the first night of the at-school junior shabbaton.

“At first I wasn’t sure about attending because I had a history test the next day,” freshman Rose Bern told The Boiling Point. “I’m so happy I attended because he was the most brilliant speaker I’ve ever heard. His bravery and selflessness and eloquence just intrigued me.”

The great turnout was due to the advertising of Mr. Roy Danovitch, who planned the event.

“We mainly publicized it through advertisements in the Beverly Hills Courier, emails to the student and parent body, phone calls to local Jewish day schools, Facebook, et cetera,” Mr. Danovitch said. “Ilana Zadok helped us get the word out to the eighth graders.

The event was part of the program Facing History and Ourselves, which Shalhevet adopted this year.