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Frederick Madison Roberts (September 14, 1879July 18, 1952) was an American newspaper owner and editor, educator and business owner who was the first African American elected to the California State Assembly. He served there for 16 years and was known as "dean of the assembly." He has been honored as the first African American elected to public office among the states on the West Coast. He was a great-grandson of Sally Hemings and President Thomas Jefferson.

Biography

Early life and education

Roberts was born on September 14, 1879 in Chillicothe, Ohiomarker, the son of Andrew Jackson Roberts (1852 - 1927), a graduate of Oberlin Collegemarker, and Ellen Wayles Hemings (1856 - 1940), who was a granddaughter of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. The daughter of Madison Hemings, Ellen was 5'10" with blue eyes. (When the Jefferson biographer Fawn Brodie saw a family photo of Ellen, she said she could see the strong resemblance to Thomas Jefferson.

When Frederick was six, his family moved to Los Angelesmarker, where his father established the first black-owned mortuary. The Roberts had a second son, William Giles Roberts. The Roberts and their descendants became prominent in the Los Angeles area, with a strong tradition of college education, and working in public service. Frederick Roberts attended Los Angeles High School and became its first African-American graduate.

Roberts attended college at the University of Southern Californiamarker (USC) where he majored in pre-law. He continued at Colorado College, where he graduated. He also attended the Barnes-Worsham School of Embalming and Mortuary Science.

Career and civic life

In 1908 Roberts started editing the Colorado Springs Light newspaper. While in Colorado, he also served as deputy assessor for El Paso Countymarker. He went to Mississippimarker where he served some years as principal of Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute, one of a number of schools founded for African Americans.

In 1912 Roberts returned to Los Angeles, where he founded The New Age Dispatch newspaper (later called New Age), which he edited until 1948. When he partnered with his father in the mortuary business, they named it A.J. Roberts & Son. Eventually he took it over.

As a newspaper editor and business owner, Roberts became a prominent leader in the growing African-American community of Los Angeles, as people arrived in the Great Migration from the South. He belonged to a Methodist church. He also became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League, associations established in the early 20th century to work for political and civil rights for blacks.

Marriage and family

In 1921 Roberts married Pearl Hinds, who had studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music. They had a daughter Gloria, who became a professional classical pianist.

Political career

In 1918 Roberts was elected to the California State Assembly from the 62nd District as a Republican in a hard-fought campaign, during which his chief rival issued racial slurs against him. While in office, Roberts sponsored legislation to establish the University of California at Los Angelesmarker and improve public education, and proposed several civil rights and anti-lynching measures. In June 1922, he welcomed Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey to Los Angeles and rode in his parade car.

He was re-elected repeatedly and served a continuous total of 16 years, becoming known as the "dean of the assembly". He was a friend of Earl Warren, governor of California who became Chief Justice of the US Supreme Courtmarker.In 1934 after the election of Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president, Roberts was defeated by another African-American candidate, Democrat Augustus F. Hawkins. Following his defeat, Roberts twice ran unsuccessfully to represent California in Congress. No African American had yet been elected representative from California.

Beginning in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the second wave of the Great Migration brought tens of thousands of African Americans from the South to the Los Angeles area for jobs in the growing defense industries. In 1946 Roberts campaigned for the 14th Congressional District against incumbent Helen Gahagan Douglas. A few years later, Douglas lost a hotly contested U.S. Senate race to Republican Richard M. Nixon.

On the evening of July 18, 1952 Roberts was involved in a serious automobile accident in Los Angeles, and died the following afternoon at Los Angeles County General Hospital. He is interred at Evergreen Cemeterymarker. He was survived by his wife and daughter.

Legacy



  • February 25, 2002 - The California State Senate honored Frederick Madison Roberts for his contributions and service to the State of California, with a unanimous vote for Senate Resolution 26, authored by Senator Ray Haynes (R-Riverside).


  • February 2006 - The Hon. Mervyn M. Dymally (D) of the California State Legislature featured the biography of Frederick M. Roberts on his website to honor early political leaders as part of Black History Month.


Citations

  1. Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  2. Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  3. Robert Fikes, "Frederick Madison Roberts", Online Encyclopedia: African American History in the West, The Black Past, 2007-2008, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  4. Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  5. Robert Fikes, "Frederick Madison Roberts", Online Encyclopedia: African American History in the West, The Black Past, 2007-2008, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  6. "Frederick Madison Roberts", The Political Graveyard, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  7. Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  8. "Frederick Madison Roberts", The Political Graveyard, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  9. Robert Fikes, "Frederick Madison Roberts", Online Encyclopedia: African American History in the West, The Black Past, 2007-2008, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  10. Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  11. Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  12. "Frederick Madison Roberts", The Political Graveyard, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  13. "Frederick Madison Roberts", The Political Graveyard, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  14. Jasmyne Cannick, "Hon. Mervyn M. Dymally Kicks off Black History Month By Highlighting Influential Blacks in California Politics", Democrats, California Assembly, 31 Jan 2006, accessed 25 Nov 2008


External links



Additional reading

  • Delilah L. Beasley, Negro Trail Blazers of California, Los Angeles: 1919, pp. 137, 215-16. (An early picture of Roberts appears on p. 40.)
  • Fawn M. Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1974
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008
  • Shannon Lanier and Jane Feldman, Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2000 (with photos of Jefferson descendants on both sides)



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