Frederick Roberts, a California first


Frederick M. Roberts
Date: 
Sun, 1879-09-14

*Frederick Madison Roberts was born on this date in 1879. He was an African American mortician, news editor, school principal and politician.

He was born in Chillicothe, Ohio the son of Andrew Jackson Roberts and Ellen Wayles Hemings, the granddaughter of Sally Hemings. At the age of six years, Roberts moved with his family to Los Angeles, where his father established the first black-owned mortuary in the area. He attended Los Angeles High School, becoming their first African American graduate. His education continued at USC where he majored in pre-law, but he graduated from Colorado College.

He also attended the Barnes-Worsham School of Embalming and Mortuary Science, eventually taking over his father's mortuary business, now called A.J. Roberts & Son. During his early career he edited the Colorado Springs Light in 1908 and returned to Los Angeles four years later to take over the New Age newspaper, which he edited until 1948. He also was a principal of Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute in Mississippi and served as deputy assessor for El Paso County, Colorado.

In 1918, Roberts was elected to the California State Assembly as a Republican in a hard fought racial slurred campaign. While in office Roberts sponsored legislation to improve public education and proposed several civil rights measures. In June 1922, he welcomed Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey to Los Angeles and even rode in his parade car. He served in the State Assembly until 1934 when he was defeated by Augustus F. Hawkins, a Democrat. Following his defeat, Roberts made two unsuccessful attempts to become the first African American elected to Congress from California.

On July 18, 1952, Roberts was involved in an automobile accident. He died the next day at Los Angeles County General Hospital and was buried at L.A.’s Evergreen Cemetery. In 1957, the city of Los Angeles dedicated Frederick M. Roberts Park, 4700 Honduras St., in his memory. In 2002, the California State Senate honored Frederick Madison Roberts for his contributions and service to the State of California.

Reference:
Black Past

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Roberts, Frederick M.