Read an Interview Activity

The following is an excerpt from an interview of Reverend Benjamin S. Roberts from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was a leader in Tulsa’s Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Read the following interview and then answer the questions below.

“People just don’t realize the power that they hold over others, how an unkind word or act can cut one’s heart right out! I had problems with what I saw as a youth in Georgia. There are hundreds and hundreds of examples of the racism that I saw, but some stand out more than others. For instance, I remember that on icy cold days, we black children had to walk miles to school as white children rode by in school buses and they would make faces at us and call us names. Even when I was young, I knew that wasn’t right, that it wasn’t fair. I just resented that type of thing because I knew that I was a person. I saw all people as people, not as different races, but as people. But in the Deep South, black people were treated as if they were still slaves. That built something up in me and I vowed that when I grew up, if I ever had a chance I would do something about what had happened and was still happening to black people, people who had been humiliated and some even killed without reason.

When I moved to Tulsa in 1949, I thought that I had left racism behind me but I found out that was not so. I found that racism was just as bad, or worse, in Tulsa than it was in Georgia, but there was one difference. The police department here did not abuse black people. The department was more cultured than the system from which I had come. Discrimination in Tulsa was more subtle, more psychological, not like the open, blunt prejudice and discrimination I had seen in Georgia.

...[Then, Rev. Roberts became involved in the Civil Rights movement by working with other ministers and by becoming an advisor for a youth ministry program. He and his youth group planned ways to protest in order to fight segregation and racism in Tulsa. He trained the youth in non-violent protest. They helped lead a voter registration movement, and protested in order to integrate restaurants, public pools, public parks, and shops in Tulsa ]...

When we first started to march, we managed to stay out of jail. But when we speeded up our protest, the jailings began to occur. I remember that one day we had 600 arrested, a record for Tulsa! A lawyer from the University of Tulsa came down to assist us. Mayor Garrett told me he was going to arrest every protestor. I told him, ‘That’s your job, you do what you have to do. But making America a just and equal society is my job, and I’m going to keep on doing it!’ And I did, and so did all those wonderful youth, and all the other people who joined us. It worked, too. The walls of segregation began to break down. Some restaurants just quietly started to serve us. Mrs. Fannie Hill and the ‘youth brigade’ that she took to Mohawk Park every week like clockwork just wore down the park officials. They just gave up and opened the park to blacks. One thing I found out was how powerful the media is. The written word can sure bring about change. You see, those who are in power have a deep desire to be seen in ‘a good light.’ They don’t want their dirt to be uncovered and revealed to the world. Reverend Ben Hill was a trained journalist and worked at The Oklahoma Eagle newspaper. His uncovering of Tulsa’s ‘dirty deeds,’ and the publishing of them, or sometimes just the threat to publish them, brought about much needed change. I am so proud of what we did in the 1950s and 1960s. In a peaceful manner, we showed the city the kinds of injustices that existed in Tulsa at the time and we helped to show them how to rise above that condition and to make Tulsa a better place. But we can’t rest on our laurels. We must be ever vigilant to recognize injustice, point it out, and do something about correcting it. That’s what I vowed to do when I was just a boy in Georgia. I have been doing just that ever since!”


What is the name of the person interviewed?

What happened to him when he walked to school as a boy? What did he think about it?

Tell about a time you were made fun of or teased? How did it make you feel? Was it similar to how Rev. Roberts felt?


Did he think racism was better or worse in Tulsa than in Georgia? Why?


How many people were jailed in one day in Tulsa because of a protest?

If Mayor Garrett was the one being interviewed about segregation and racism, how do you think his interview might be different from this one?


How do you think Rev. Roberts’ experiences as a child influenced him to grow up to be a civil rights leader?


Why do you think their protests worked?


Do you see discrimination or bullying in your school today? How do you think you and your friends can stand up to bullying?


Can you find a newspaper article from your local paper that is an example of discrimination happening today?


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