Little Rock Nine Member Visits Scripps

Scripps College welcomed Terrence Roberts, a member of the Little Rock Nine, to Balch Auditorium Nov. 10. Roberts, a prominent psychologist and the husband of Scripps history and Africana studies professor Rita Roberts, joined his wife and Scripps American studies professor Matthew Delmont in a panel that addressed lesser-known hardships of African-American civil rights activists. 

The members of the Little Rock Nine were the first African-Americans to attend Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The last panel member to
address the audience, Terrence Roberts spoke primarily of his experience as a member of the civil rights movement and his motivations for fighting for African-American rights despite the dangers that he and other activists confronted. 

“In class with professor Roberts, we
talked about the importance of … African-American history, but I think getting
to talk about African-American history outside the classroom and seeing the emotional response is
stimulating,” Tori Sepand SC ’15 said of the panel. “I’m just in awe of [the Roberts’] experiences.”

Rita Roberts, the first to speak, addressed the often overlooked influence of
African-American female leaders in the feminist and civil rights movements
of the 19th and 20th centuries.

“White feminists ignored the role African-American women have played in
history … and therefore they are left out of
recounting the past,” she said in the presentation. “White women came to represent all women.”

The three panelists provided background information about many of the pieces present in the “True Witness: A Civil Rights Cantata” concert that was featured later that day at Scripps’s Garrison Theater (see Life & Style, page 5). Rita Roberts said that by setting the stories and writings of these women to music, the cantata highlights the
political and emotional influence of their lives on the civil rights movement. 

“I’m a politics major so I’m always
thinking about the political side of things, but I think seeing … political
activism and how it intersects with music, and seeing both the political impact
and emotional impact, is both important and fascinating,” Liz McElvein SC
’14 said. 

Delmont discussed cases of
crimes against African-American civil rights fighters that were not prosecuted, including the case of civil rights leaders Harry and Harriette Moore, who were killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan detonated a bomb under
their bedroom. Those responsible were not prosecuted at the time, and the
Moores’ case was largely forgotten.

“It’s wonderful that they’re working
on a collaboration through music and oral history to empower many African-Americans who weren’t heard throughout history,” Carlie Malone SC ’14 said. 

“It was just such an interesting and
engaging experience,” Alexandra Wattis SC ’17 said. “You think about everything he and others
went through, and how important he is, and you just reconsider everything we
take for granted today.” 

“It was a privilege to
hear them tell their stories and … bring to light a lot of
issues [our society has] forgotten about,” she added.


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