ND Reads Author Visit Features One of the Little Rock Nine

ND Reads Author Visit Features One of the Little Rock Nine

By Isha Trivedi '19

As part of Notre Dame’s 12th annual ND Reads program, Dr. Terrence Roberts, author of Lessons from Little Rock and one of the “Little Rock Nine,” visited campus to give a talk about his experiences as a child in Arkansas. As volunteers to help desegregate local schools, Dr. Roberts and eight other teenagers became the first (and only) African-American students at Little Rock Central High School during the 1957-1958 school year. The racism and bigotry they endured fueled their passion for nonviolence, and greatly contributed to the movement towards equal rights for all people. 

After leaving Central High, Dr. Roberts went on to receive a bachelor of arts degree in sociology, a master’s in social welfare, and a PhD in psychology. When he retired in 2008, he wrote his memoir (and this year’s ND Reads book), Lessons from Little Rock, and began travelling to give talks about the insight he has gained through his uniquely personal experience. 

During his time at ND, Dr. Roberts’ manner of speaking fully engaged both students and teachers alike, who were all incredibly excited and eager to hear what he had to say. As someone who has been able to see the way that society has changed over time, Dr. Roberts knows that society is far from perfect, and there is still a long way to go until we can call ourselves just and equal. In his words, “we have so much to do, we can’t talk about progress yet.” Especially with his childhood being the way that it was, Dr. Roberts can see the patterns throughout history and how “what we’re experiencing now is not new, [which] people tend to forget.” Dr. Roberts’ book has been integrated throughout the curriculum this year and is particularly timely given the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine integration on September 25th. Dr. Roberts’ visit helped give a much more personal perspective of the injustices we see in our world today, and what we can do about them in our own communities. 

Dr. Roberts is a living reminder that despite how archaic it may seem, segregation was a common occurrence not long ago. His experience forces us to contend with our past, and reminds us that the legacy of slavery still plagues us today. His story is one of perseverance, nonviolence, and determination that all can learn from.