University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Terrence Roberts, one of the ‘Little Rock Nine’ desegregation movement, to speak Feb. 6

Dr. Terrence Roberts

Dr. Terrence Roberts

Terrence Roberts, one of the famous “Little Rock Nine,” a group of brave black students that led desegregation of public schools in the late 1950s, will present “Lessons from Little Rock,” at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, in the Memorial Union.

The presentation delivered by Roberts tells a chilling story of the nine teenagers who fought back against forces of discrimination in 1957. Roberts will talk about the intriguing events of that frightful time inside Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

On Sept. 25, 1957, the nine black students, including Roberts, risked their lives by integrating into Central High School in Little Rock, which officially desegregated its public school system. Their bravery that day would live on forever. They were admitted based on exceptional grades and attendance after the U.S. Supreme Court declared a ruling that would make all segregated schools unconstitutional.

On the first day, the nine were met by a hostile group of segregationists that physically blocked the students from entering the school. Former Arkansas governor, Orval Faubus, deployed the National Guard to help support the blockade. The students were spat on, verbally abused and had their lives threatened.

The blockade made national attention and polarized the nation. President Dwight Eisenhower called a meeting with Governor Faubus to condemn him for his defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Eisenhower federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking the matter out of the hands of Gov. Faubus. The students were escorted inside the school by troops from the 101st Airborne Division. Still, the “Little Rock Nine” were subjected to an intense period of physical and verbal abuse and intimidation.

In his presentations, Roberts rekindles the dramatic events of that time in hopes of altering the status quo of society and moving forth to a better America. Roberts visit to UND coincides with the University’s February celebration of Black History Month.

There is a strong UND and North Dakota tie to the Little Rock Nine.

One of UND’s most notable alumni, the late Judge Ronald N. Davies, is responsible for helping unify Arkansas’ federal judges during this time of intense uncertainty and discrimination. His decisions helped block Gov. Faubus from permitting the segregation of Central High School.

Davies’ decisions prompted Eisenhower to bolster the desegregation movement in Arkansas with federal troops.

Davies attended Grand Forks Central High School and graduated from UND with a bachelor of arts in 1927. He would move on to Georgetown University to receive his law degree and then back to Grand Forks, where he practiced and served as a municipal judge for 25 years. His law career was interrupted from 1942 to 1946, when he served in the U.S. Army in World War II.

Davies was given an honorary doctorate degree in 1961 for his outstanding legal career to that point, and in 1979, he received UND’s highest alumni honor, The Sioux Award.

In 2001, the federal courthouse in downtown Grand Forks was renamed the Ronald N. Davies Federal Building and Courthouse. There is also a new high school named in Davies’ honor in south Fargo.

Davies, who died in 1996, was the recipient of the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.

The event is sponsored by the University Program Council.

-- Eric Gunderson, student writer, University Relations.

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