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.