Shirley Roberson
Civil Rights
Civil Rights demonstrations

"I come from a very good family, a poor family but a good family. I'm privileged to have grown up in a two-parent home because I think that has made the difference." So Shirley characterizes her early years. She was born at Old Charity Hospital in Shreveport to Otha and Leslie Henderson--one of five sisters and two brothers. Her father was employed in a steel mill and supplemented the family income by repairing televisions and radios. Her mother worked as a housewife and domestic, and then at the cafeteria of Union Street High School, where Shirley attended. While her father fished to supplement the family fare, Shirley says meals often consisted of "a plate of greens and some cornbread." She credits her grandmother for giving her faith and determination in the face of poverty and discrimination. She also believes her family was the best educated on the street. Shirley recalls riding in the back of trolleys. By age 12, she began babysitting for white families. At 16 Shirley, who admired activist Angela Davis and was wearing an Afro and helping to register people to vote. Graduating from high school in 1967, she attended Southern University the first year it opened a Shreveport campus. There she was captain of the women's track team. Off campus she began going to civil rights meetings. At 17 she picketed Stan's Record Shop in an effort to persuade the business to hire African-Americans. Shirley says she was the first person of color to sell clothing at the downtown J.C. Penney store. Initially, she says, white customers wouldn't allow her to wait on them. However, more African-Americans began shopping there after she went to work, so she helped increase business. Shirley got her job in a coordinated effort in which Wade Robertson, a teacher at Grambling State University, assigned young blacks to seek jobs in several downtown stores. While employed at J.C. Penney, she also worked at an army ammunition plant in Minden. She later worked at Selber Brothers Department Store for three years as summer employment. Shirley went on to Southern University in Baton Rouge. Unable to afford her own housing, she "stole sleep" by living in a dormitory with girlfriends who were paying for the facility. She taught biology for a year at Southern, was employed at NASA, and then went on to Baylor College of Medicine, and Lehigh University. Returning to Shreveport she began working at LSU Health Sciences Center. "I'm an administrator at the same hospital where my grandmother used to work, the same hospital I was born in," she comments. Shirley married Leon Roberson on January 26, 1970. They have three children and three grandchildren.