- Terrence J. Roberts
Terrence J. Roberts
Civil Rights Leader/Author
California State University San Marcos
As a child, Dr. Terrence J. Roberts experienced a profound example of discrimination that left an indelible mark on him. In an excerpt from his biography, Mr. Roberts writes that as a child, "all the seats at the hamburger joint were reserved for White patrons, so 13 year old Terrence Roberts ordered food to go. While waiting, he impulsively sat down at the counter and then realized a hush had fallen over the place. Suddenly everyone seemed to be looking at him threateningly. He canceled his order and left. As he walked home, Roberts remembers wondering 'what would it take for (him) to be treated like a real human being?'"
Two years later, in 1957, he volunteered to be one of the "Little Rock Nine" who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. After Mr. Roberts and the eight other students made several attempts to attend Central High that fall, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered federal troops to the school. A soldier was assigned to protect each African American student, yet Roberts recalls he still suffered physical and verbal abuse on a daily basis throughout the school year.
To honor his experience of voluntarily enduring such discrimination because of a belief in justice and because he paved the way for millions of black students who would come after him, Mr. Roberts was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton in 1999 for his courage and perseverance.
Roberts' actions are a manifestation of that culture. His behavior is the epitome of being civically engaged and contributing to the public good. Originally, 11 students volunteered to help desegregate Central High School. Two of those students, along with their families, determined that the pressure was unbearable and the risk was not worth the benefit. Roberts and eight of his classmates prevailed. Their dedication and commitment to the principles of equality ultimately worked to change an entire country.
California State University San Marcos prides itself on a commitment to social justice. Since its founding, the curriculum has intentionally woven lessons of multicultural competence into many courses.
In recognition of his accomplishments as a civil rights leader, author and public servant, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University San Marcos are proud to confer upon Terrence J. Roberts the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.