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'Little Rock Nine' Member Terrence Roberts On Lessons From Integration

Courtesy American Program Bureau

In 1957, nine African-American students integrated a previously all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. They became known as the Little Rock Nine, and one of those students is in Louisville on Tuesday.

Dr. Terrence Roberts will speak at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s annual conference on what he learned from his experience, how he’s applied that to his career in psychology, and what has and hasn’t changed in America in the intervening 60 years.

You can listen to our conversation in the media player above.

On walking into Little Rock Central High School for the first time:

"That was a very difficult thing because there were times, many times, when I said I've had enough. I'm leaving. The question was put to me once, 'did I ever think of quitting?' I said, 'Oh yes, every second of every day.' Because it was difficult. And you're right, the first day was startling and shocking and elicited quite a bit of fear, but the second day was worse because I knew going in what I would face."

On confronting racism with civility:

"It's easy when you see the other person as being a worthwhile person. And I've talked to people whose ways of thinking are 180 degrees divorced from mine, but I find it intriguing because I get to hear them tell me how they managed to get to that point. And I don't know, so I have to have that conversation. That way I can more readily understand their decision making process.

'Because if you have a certain way of believing, your decisions will follow lock step from that point. So I encourage people always to build relationships with people and try to reach out of your comfort zone and talk to people who actually frighten you with their ideas. But it's worth knowing how that person came to be because once you know the story, you have an inkling of understanding of how it's possible to get to certain places on the human continuum. And it's only at that point, that way of understanding each other, that we can possibly draw closer together."

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.