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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Roberts family papers
    Dates: circa 1850s-1984
    Collection number: MS 2
    Creator: Roberts, Patricia F.
    Creator: Roberts, Gloria P.
    Collection Size: 3 linear feet (7 boxes + 1 oversized box)
    Repository: African American Museum & Library at Oakland (Oakland, Calif.)
    Oakland, CA 94612
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    No access restrictions. Collection is open to the public.

    Access Restrictions

    Materials are for use in-library only, non-circulating.

    Publication Rights

    Permission to publish from the Roberts Family Papers must be obtained from the African American Museum & Library at Oakland.

    Preferred Citation

    Roberts family papers, MS 2, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library. Oakland, California.

    Acquisition Information

    The Roberts Family Papers were donated to the Northern California Center for Afro-American History and Life by Patricia F. and Gloria P. Roberts on June 7, 1992.

    Processing Information

    Marianne Garden and Maria Ortiz (photographs), 1995. Revised by Sean Heyliger and encoded in EAD, March 6, 2013.

    Biography / Administrative History

    Frederick M. Roberts
    Frederick Madison Roberts was born in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1880 to Andrew J. and Ellen Wales Roberts. From his mother, he acquired the distinction of being the great-grandson of Sally Hemings, a woman reputed to be the mistress of Thomas Jefferson. In 1886, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Andrew Roberts helped to start a tracking and storage company. He later opened a mortuary business, Roberts Undertaking, and trained his sons, Frederick and William, to help him.
    Roberts was the first African American to graduate from Los Angeles High School and he went on to attend the University of Southern California for one semester and then transferred to Colorado College, where he received an A.B. in legal studies. He also received a certificate from the Chicago School of Embalming. While in Colorado, he began his career as a newspaper publisher by serving as editor of Colorado Springs Light from 1908-1912. He also served in his first civic office, acting as deputy assessor of El Paso County, Colorado.
    Upon his return to Los Angeles, Roberts joined his father's business as a mortician and also purchased and began editing New Age, a weekly paper. Around 1914, Roberts moved to Mississippi to take on the position of principal of the Mound Bayou Industrial School. After four years of educational work, he returned to California and ran for the Republican seat for the 74th District in the state legislature. His victory in this race proved to be a milestone, for he became the first African American to hold a seat in the California State Legislature. He held this seat continuously for ten years and then after reapportionment occurred, he was elected from the 62nd District for three more terms. In 1934, he lost his seat to Democrat Augustus F. Hawkins. Politics continued to interest him, however, and in 1946, he became the Republican nominee for the 14th District seat in the United States House of Representatives. He lost the election to Democratic candidate Helen Gahagan Douglas but remained active in the Republican party up until his death.
    In addition to his careers as a politician, newspaper publisher, and mortician, Roberts also played an important role in civic and religious affairs. He acted as a director for local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Y.M.C.A., the Urban League, and the Outdoor Health Association. He frequently gave speeches at events sponsored by the Woman's Political Study Club. Roberts also served as a trustee of the First A.M.E. Church at Eighth and Towne avenues.
    Roberts married his wife, Pearl Willard Hinds, on November 30,1921. They had two daughters, Gloria and Patricia. He died suddenly in 1952 after suffering a fatal injury in an automobile accident.
    Pearl Willard Roberts
    Pearl Roberts was born on January 17,1892 to Lucy McKinney and Wiley Hinds on their ranch in Tulare County. She spent the first nine years of her life on the ranch and attended Deep Creek School, a country school in the neighboring town of Farmersville. Her father bought the family a piano when she was about six years old and arranged for Pearl and her sister to travel to Visalia for piano lessons.
    When Lucy Hinds decided to move to the city of Oakland and take a rest from the hard ranch work, Pearl joined her and began attending Oakland High School. She continued her piano lessons and also played the organ and sang in the choir at her church. Upon finishing high school, she attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio. Oberlin had a strong commitment to providing educational opportunities for women of color and Pearl gained not only excellent musical training, but also leadership skills. After completing her degree and a summer session at the Boston Conservatory of Music, Pearl accepted a position as teacher in the music department at the State Normal College of South Carolina at Orangeburg. She later became department head and developed a deep interest in negro spirituals as a result of hearing them sung by her students.
    Upon her return to Oakland to care for her mother and invalid brother, Pearl accepted a position as a church organist and became the first African-American female pipe organist in Northern California. She also taught piano and started a chorus, the Etude Musical Club, which performed spirituals along with popular songs. This group received a great deal of praise from critics and even an offer to tour the United States.
    On November 30, 1921, Pearl married Frederick Roberts and moved to Los Angeles. She continued her musical activities at the First A.M.E. Church at Eighth and Towne, serving as organist, choir director, and founder of the Clef Club. She also became active in political affairs through participation in the Woman's Political Study Club. After her husband's death in 1952, she was accorded the honor of serving as a member of the Electoral College for the State of California. She died on July 21,1984.
    Gloria Pearl Roberts
    Gloria Roberts began her study of music with John Gray at the Gray Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. She won her first piano contest at age eight and went on to become a three-time winner of the annual piano contest of the California Festival of Music and Art during her teens. While a music student at the University of Southern California, she studied with Marguerite Bitter and won piano competitions sponsored by Mu Phi Epsilon and the California Music Teacher's Association. Gloria continued her studies at the Julliard School of Music in New York, where she prepared for a career as a concert pianist. After winning first prize at the National Guild of Piano Teachers auditions, she began concertizing in New York and New Jersey and received critical acclaim as "the Marian Anderson of the keyboard." She then embarked upon a West Coast tour, playing recitals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fresno, Seattle, and Portland. After several years of touring, she returned to southern California, where she became a church organist and First Vice-President of the Southeast Symphony Association.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Roberts Family Papers document the activities of a family who achieved many milestones for African-Americans in California. Frederick Roberts was the first African American to graduate from Los Angeles High School and the first African American state assemblyman. In addition, he worked for the first African-American mortuary to be established in Los Angeles. His wife, Pearl, attended both the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Boston Conservatory of Music. She became the first African-American woman pipe organist in Northern California and founded a very successful choral group which was acclaimed for its performance of spirituals. Frederick and Pearl's daughter, Gloria, also pursued a career in music and performed in both the United States and Europe as a concert pianist.
    Although not comprehensive in scope, these papers provide insight into these various milestones. They do not offer an in-depth look at the career of any one individual but do highlight some of the achievements of Frederick, Pearl, and Gloria Roberts. Frederick Roberts' political career is not thoroughly documented and is only represented by miscellaneous campaign flyers, pamphlets, and correspondence. However, the papers do include election reports and flyers relating to his campaign for the Republican seat of the 14th Congressional District, as well as materials from the National Republican Convention he attended right before his death in 1952. Information on Roberts' biography and his involvement in the undertaking business and in various civic and religious groups is also present in the form of correspondence, clippings, and pamphlets. The papers also encompass a large collection of photographs documenting Roberts' role as a politician, as well as various family members.
    The musical contributions of Pearl and Gloria Roberts are documented in programs, correspondence, and clippings relating to their education and concertizing. Their involvement in the political arena and in religious affairs is also illustrated in materials from the Woman's Political Study Club and the First A.M.E. Church. In addition, various pamphlets, certificates, programs, and letters provide a record of Pearl Roberts' service on the Electoral Committee for California. Personal correspondence received by these two women upon the death of Frederick Roberts also contains many warm tributes to and reminiscences about him from politicians and friends. The papers also include one miscellaneous file of materials on the Roberts' other daughter, Patricia Fredericka.


    Sub-group I. Frederick Roberts Series I. Biographical Series II. Business Activities Series III. Civic Activities Series IV. Political Activities Series V. Religious Activities
    Sub-group II. Pearl Roberts Series I. Biographical Series II. Business Activities Series III. Civic Activities Series IV. Musical Activities Series V. Political Activities Series VI. Religious Activities
    Sub-Group III. Gloria Roberts Series I. Biographical Series II. Musical Activities Series III. Political Activities
    Sub-group IV. Patricia Roberts Series I. Biographical
    Sub-group V. Assorted
    Sub-group VI. Photographs

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Roberts, Frederick M., 1880-1952
    Roberts, Gloria Pearl
    Roberts, Patricia
    Roberts, Pearl Willard, 1892-1984
    African Americans--California--Los Angeles--Politics and government.
    African Americans--Politics and government--20th century.
    Tulare County (Calif.)--Pictorial works.
    African American cowboys.
    African American farmers.
    Oberlin College--Students.