"Everything was kind of hush-hush."
Patricia Roberts recalls first hearing about her connection to Jefferson and Monticello.
Family: Hemings, Madison
Occupation: Legislator; Newspaper publisher; Mortician
Frederick Madison Roberts was born in Ohio and grew up in Los Angeles, where his parents moved in 1887. The first black graduate of the city’s high school and a football star at Colorado College, he was a tax assessor, mortician, and college president. For many years he published the weekly Los Angeles New Age and, in 1918, he ran for the California legislature. Elected in a largely white district, he was the first black member of the assembly. He and his wife, Pearl Hinds Roberts, had two daughters.
Roberts was a vigorous advocate of civil rights in the legislature and in his newspaper, spearheading protests and boycotts as discrimination in Los Angeles grew with the arrival of more and more southerners. A loyal Republican at a time when blacks were realigning behind Roosevelt’s Democratic party, he lost his seat in 1934 and waged two unsuccessful campaigns for Congress. In 1952, when slated for an ambassadorship if Eisenhower were elected, his life was cut short by an automobile accident.
In 1922, Frederick Roberts warns of the growing threat to the ideals of the Founders.
In the south, the policy of white toward Negro is one of suppression and antagonism. Once the issue of social equality is raised, the whole American idea of fair play is laid aside in favor of mob force and lynching bees. The result is that our national tranquility is shaken to the roots, and the very life of American ideals is threatened.
In the west, on the other hand, the athletic ideal governs the relation between the races. Here the American idea of fair play prevails. The race issue is never present in politics, but rather Negro and Caucasian vote on all questions from a moral and purely objective viewpoint.
The problem of racial disorder in the south is not a Negro problem, but a purely American one. If in one corner of the land law and order may be set aside to favor the passions of a group, why is it not feasible to do the same thing in other parts of the country? Thus the very existence of the principles, upon which our nation was founded are at stake. (San Jose Evening News, 2 Sep. 1922)
Pearl Roberts speaks of her husband’s political views and career.
After a while he became interested in politics. He ran for the Board of Education once and didn’t win. In 1918, he ran for Assemblyman and people thought he was crazy, but he was elected. He was there for 16 years, four terms. He was the first black elected to an official position in the state of California. He was the first black elected to a state office west of the Mississippi….
He didn’t like the word “Negro.” He used the term “Americans of African descent.” He wanted to stress the fact that we were Americans and should be treated as Americans. Whereas most newspapers would say, “another Negro lynched,” his newspaper would say, “another American lynched.” (Pearl Roberts typescript autobiography, Roberts Collection, African American Museum and Library at Oakland)