Famous as a member of The Little Rock Nine, he was a joint recipient of the 1999 Congressional Gold Medal. In 1957, he and eight other students became the first African Americans to attend Little Rock Central High School.
Before enrolling at Little Rock Central High School, he attended the segregated Horace Mann High School. Because all of the secondary schools in Little Rock were shut down during his senior year, he moved to California, where he graduated from Los Angeles High School.
After earning an undergraduate degree in sociology from California State University, Los Angeles, he received a master's degree from the University of California-Los Angeles' School of Social Welfare and went on to earn a doctorate in psychology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
The son of Margaret and William Roberts, he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. He later settled in California, where he taught psychology at both Pacific Union College and Antioch University Los Angeles.
He and Ernest Green were both members of The Little Rock Nine.