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History coming to life

One of the 'Little Rock Nine' will speak during HB Reads program.

January 21, 2014|By Michael Miller
  • Terrence Roberts, one of the "Little Rock Nine" who broke the color barrier at Central High School in Arkansas in 1957, will be the featured author in this year's HB Reads program.
Terrence Roberts, one of the "Little Rock Nine"… (Courtesy TerrenceRoberts.com )

The boy who once required military intervention to attend a high school in Arkansas will be a warmly received guest at a high school in Huntington Beach.

That's the symbolic truth as Terrence Roberts — one of the black students known as the "Little Rock Nine," who broke the color barrier at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 — prepares to visit Surf City as part of the seventh annual HB Reads program.

With with death of Trayvon Martin, the controversial comments by Paula Deen, and the movie "12 Years a Slave" and other stories dominating the news, race has been a hot topic in America of late — well, not that it's ever been that cold — but a browse through "Lessons from Little Rock," Roberts' memoir of his perilous teen years, serves as a reminder of how attitudes have changed in half a century.

Thursday evening, HB Reads will kick off with a panel discussion at Barnes & Noble at Bella Terra. The two-month series of citywide events will end with a speech by Roberts at Huntington Beach High School on March 20. (The author will not be present at Thursday's discussion.) Every year, HB Reads spotlights a book about diversity and human rights, and previous entries have focused on Mexican migrants, autism, African refugees and more.

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Roberts, who lives in Pasadena and runs a management consultant firm, has an ample resume as a guest speaker: On Monday, the author visited two colleges in Pennsylvania to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In between campus appearances, Roberts spoke to the Independent about life as a civil-rights advocate and the steps America still needs to take toward equality. The following are excerpts from the conversation:

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Today is MLK Day. What do you think about on this day every year?

Well, it varies depending on what's going on in my life. Today, I was simply thinking about what kinds of conversations I might have with the students and preparing myself for that. But nothing more than that.

Do you speak to students very often now?

All the time, yes. That's a big part of what I've been doing in January and February because Martin Luther King Day comes up in January, and then there's Black History Month in February. Those are two months where I spend a lot of time talking with students.

Did you know Dr. King personally?

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