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Wed, 04.22.1885

Homer Roberts, Businessman born

Homer Roberts

*Homer Roberts’ birth is celebrated on this date in 1885.  He was a Black businessman (Automobile Dealer).  

Homer B. Roberts was born in Ash Grove, Missouri, and grew up in Wellington, Kansas. He attended Tuskegee Institute and studied electrical engineering at Kansas State Agricultural College. He moved to Kansas City but found no one willing to hire a Black electrical engineer. He served in the signal corps during World War I and rose to first lieutenant.

After the war, Roberts began selling automobiles in 1919, using a curbstone as his office. He soon moved to indoor quarters, and his sales increased. In 1923, he purchased a two-story building at the corner of 19th and Vine in Kansas City. The $70,000 Roberts Building contained a restaurant, several shops, offices, a garage, and a showroom for Roberts’ "Motor Mart." With enduring determination and a love of the motorcar, Roberts was the first African American to own an automobile dealership in America. By 1928, Roberts had sold more than $2 million worth of cars, most of them to Blacks.

He was as persistent in the 1920s as any car salesman, but his goals reached well beyond the next sale. His entire sales staff, clerical, and garage staff were Black. Although he specialized in the Hupmobile, Roberts sold many other domestic models. His status as a dealer to the Black community permitted him from automobile manufacturers to sell several makes. Roberts moved to Chicago in 1929 to open the Roberts-Campbell dealership in the Grand Hotel.

He served with the Army in World War II and was transferred to the Pentagon, where he served in the public relations department. He continued working in Chicago in the public relations field after the war until he died in 1952. The Roberts Building still stands on Vine Street, its glazed brick walls a tribute to a local automobile enthusiast and solid businessman of Kansas City.

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