Celebrating 50 years of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

One of the Little Rock Nine, psychologist Terrence Roberts, PhD, receives an award at the ArPA Commemoration.

By Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD

Terrence Roberts, PhD, one of the original Little Rock Nine, receives an award from Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD.On July 2, I was honored to give a presentation before the Arkansas Psychological Association, as part of ArPA’s Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, celebrating and recognizing the date President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. As an African-American woman who grew up in the segregated South, I saw this event as one of the most important of my lifetime. I had spent hours looking at the group of nine children attempting to enter racially segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. with the then governor calling out the National Guard to block the kids from entering. Later President Dwight Eisenhower sent in the army to protect the children and to escort them into the school while angry citizens hurled racist slurs and abuse at the students. This was just one of the events I recall watching on television during this period.

My speech, “Why Celebrate the 1964 Civil Rights Act?” talked about the 50th anniversary as an important opportunity to assess where we are and to evaluate our progress. That evaluation clearly shows that discrimination and inequality still exist and there is more work to be done; schools are still segregated, more in the Northeast than in the South now, and inequity remains in the work world.

One of the highlights of the event was an award given to Terrence Roberts, PhD, one of the original Little Rock Nine. Roberts, a psychologist, noted in his acceptance speech the importance of education and being the director of your own life and future. Patricia Griffen, PhD, president of the Arkansas Psychological Association, organized the event, and she and her colleagues developed a resolution acknowledging the harmful impact of discrimination and their commitment to support policies and activities that support fairness and equity.

For more information visit the APA’s Report of the Task Force on Discrimination and Diversity: Dual Pathways to a Better America: Preventing Discrimination and Promoting Diversity webpage.