LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Little Rock Nine made history as they entered Central High School, Monday marks 66 years since that fateful day
The desegregation of Arkansas schools is a key moment in United States history. The trailblazing students in Little Rock are still at work today to make sure their story is never forgotten.
The group’s first effort was on September 3 of that year, but the Arkansas National Guard – ordered by Democratic Governor Orval Faubus – turned them away.
They were turned away again a second time by police, for their own safety. The next day, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped in and ordered the 101st Airborne and federal troops to escort them into the school. The day after that, they finally did.
September 25, 1957 is often referred to as the day the students integrated Central High, but one member of the Little Rock Nine, Dr. Terrence Robert said the day was simply them desegregating, not integrating, because even today, they feel like there is a separation in society between whites and blacks.
“We pretty much knew from day one and thereafter that we were to either voluntarily leave or we would be killed and dragged away,” Dr. Roberts said. “That message was repeated every day and every day.”
When asked what kept him fighting to stay in the school and push through in the face of adversity, his response was simple: “The right to be there.”
Dr. Roberts, along with Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown-Tricky, Elizabeth Eckford, and Corlatta Walls-LaNier, spoke on the current events happening at the state level, that they find discouraging.
When asked about the recent effort by the Arkansas Board of Education to remove AP African American Studies from course code, and the fight back from schools to continue offering it anyway, Dr. Roberts said he simply did not understand the reasoning.
He added that there is something he wishes he and the white students at Central could have done years ago.
“I would’ve demanded that at the end of any given school day the nine of us and the kids who were intent on beating us up that day would sit down together at a table and listen, as they explain why they tried to beat us up and be able to talk about how we responded and what we could do together,” he said.
Dr. Roberts said this would also help our society today, and he does not feel it is too late.
“Is that possible? Total agreement?” Dr. Roberts asked. “No, but I think it would get better if we all tried.”
The group had a press conference with the Clinton School of Public Service Monday, where the school announced an endowment towards the Little Rock Nine scholarship for its students.
In honor of the Little Rock Nine’s anniversary, the ‘No Tears Project’ will be performing a free concert Monday night at the Ron Robinson Theatre in the River Market.