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Michael Roberts, Sr.

Entrepreneur Michael Victor Roberts, Sr. was born on October 24, 1948, in St. Louis, Missouri to Delores Talley Roberts and Victor Roberts. He grew up the first of four siblings. The Roberts family was educated in the St. Louis Public School System, and Roberts began working as a youth, earning money doing chores around the neighborhood and delivering newspapers. Roberts heard St. Louis’ Dick Gregory talk about the Civil Rights Movement and was inspired. Graduating from Northwest High School in 1967, where he played the trombone and tennis, Roberts attended Central Missouri State University and Forest Park Community College. He met Jack Danforth at Camp Minnewanka and finished Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri as a Danforth Fellow. He began his first business selling dashikis and other African merchandise to area bookstores. Roberts studied law at St. Louis University School of Law, and in 1974, earned his J.D. degree and began Roberts-Roberts and Associates, a business and construction management firm headquartered in St. Louis.

In 1976, Roberts worked as St. Louis campaign manager for Jimmy Carter, and after Carter’s election as U.S. President, he was a regular guest at the White House. One year later, Roberts was elected the youngest alderman in St. Louis. His brother, Steven C. Roberts, would claim this title two years later, serving along with Mike Jones, Virvus Jones and Wayman Smith. Roberts was the chief sponsor of the St. Louis Center and Union Station developments, and he was involved in major redevelopment efforts for the City of St. Louis.

In 1981, Roberts and his brother began Roberts Broadcasting. After establishing WRBU-TV in St. Louis, the Roberts Brothers would build eleven more television stations across the country, from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Mobile, Alabama. While building these stations, the Roberts Brothers founded Roberts Construction Company in 1989. This additional business enterprise supplemented the commercial and residential developments the brothers had established in 1982 known as Roberts Brothers Properties.

In 1999, the Roberts Brothers opened the first Sprint PCS-affiliated wireless store in Jefferson City, Missouri. It was the only PCS-affiliated company owned by African Americans. The Roberts Companies include a $460 million thirty-four-company organization, with an aviation division, a gated Bahamas community and other real estate developments. Roberts serves as chairman of the board, while his brother Steven serves as president.

Accession Number

A2007.295

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/18/2007 |and| 12/6/2007

Last Name

Roberts

Middle Name

V.

Schools

Northwest High School

Scullin Elementary School

Cupples Elementary School

Saint Louis University School of Law

Lindenwood University

University of Central Missouri

First Name

Michael

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

ROB20

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bahamas

Favorite Quote

Fake It Until You Make It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Missouri

Birth Date

10/24/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

St. Louis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

City alderman Michael Roberts, Sr. (1948 - ) was a former alderman of St. Louis, Missouri; and former campaign manager for Jimmy Carter. He and his brother Steven Roberts, Sr. co-founded the Roberts Companies, which included an aviation division, a gated Bahamas community and real estate development. He served as the company's board chairman.

Employment

St. Louis Board of Aldermen

The Roberts Companies

Favorite Color

Earth Tones

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Michael Roberts, Sr.'s interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the black neighborhoods of St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Steven Roberts, Sr. remembers meeting his paternal cousin

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his paternal family's move to St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls his father's service in the U.S. military

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his father's career

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers moving to San Francisco Court in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his light complexion, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his light complexion, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his schooling in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his early activities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. narrates a photograph of Dick Gregory and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his early work experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls his early cultural experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his experiences in college

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers Lindenwood College for Men in St. Charles, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his interest in existentialism

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers lessons from Sam Lapp

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls the development of his interest in law

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls working at Camp Miniwanca in Stony Lake, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Slating of Michael Roberts, Sr.'s interview, session 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls buying a home in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls integrating the New York Athletic Club

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers integrating the Missouri Athletic Club

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers The Hague Academy in the Netherlands

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his meeting with F.W. de Klerk

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls working as a campaign manager for President Jimmy Carter

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his work with the St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. reflects upon his role at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. reflects upon his role at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls serving as a diplomatic delegate to Brazil

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his research on his paternal family, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his research on his paternal family, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers registering voters in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the voting rights case of Roberts v. Wamser

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about the case of Bush v. Gore

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his criticism of President James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his relationships with black elected officials

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls acquiring of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. building in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls his first television station acquisition

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the importance of business relationships

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls his partnership with the Home Shopping Network

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the Roberts Broadcasting Company's workforce

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls the development of Roberts Wireless Communications

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers partnering with Lucent Technologies, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers WorldCom's acquisition of the Sprint PCS Group

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the success of The Shops at Roberts Village in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about inner city revitalization

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes The Roberts Companies' real estate in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. reflects upon The Roberts Companies' business philosophy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the Roberts Hotels Group, LLC, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the Roberts Hotels Group, LLC, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes plans for the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the Roberts Mayfair Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the Roberts Hotels Group, LLC's success

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes the opportunities for African Americans in business

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about the success of The Roberts Companies

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his advice for young people

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about the challenges he faced in business

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Michael Roberts, Sr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Michael Roberts, Sr. remembers his mother's college graduation

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his children

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Michael Roberts, Sr. talks about his wife, Jeanne Gore Roberts

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes his book, 'Action Has No Season'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Michael Roberts, Sr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Michael Roberts, Sr. narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Michael Roberts, Sr. narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

2$2

DATape

4$6

DAStory

3$5

DATitle
Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls integrating the New York Athletic Club
Michael Roberts, Sr. recalls the development of Roberts Wireless Communications
Transcript
After I did a little work there, I was getting more involved in local politics in St. Louis [Missouri]. As I said I was just out of law school [Saint Louis University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri], so I was earning about twenty-six [$26,000], and I, I got active in the 19th Ward [Ward 19, St. Louis, Missouri], and I moved in the 19th Ward. So when many of my friends were heading off and, and to live in the suburbs after law school I moved two blocks from the projects. Within a couple of years in 1977, I was elected to the Board of Aldermen. But, prior to that, I became active with the Jimmy Carter [James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.] campaign. Now when I met him in early '75 [1975], it was still Jimmy Who to everyone. I remember Jimmy saying to some friends at one of our first events that "Michael [HistoryMaker Michael Roberts, Sr.] was my first friend in Missouri," (laughter) but he said it with a lot of more southern accent than I could develop just now. But, it was a great experience for me, because indeed I was able to surface nationally with a man who ultimately became president. I remember going to the Democratic Convention [1976 Democratic National Convention] for the first time in New York [New York]. In 1975, I was the first African American with his own private business to be accepted into the Missouri Athletic Club [St. Louis, Missouri], and this was a club that was a network of old boys, very successful whites, no men--I mean no women, only men. And as the first member, I had reciprocal memberships in clubs all over the country. And this is just a side story, I remember taking my brother, Steve [HistoryMaker Steven Roberts, Sr.], with me. We went to, we went to New York. I think he was still in law--he was still in law school [Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri] at the time, but in order f- we didn't have a place to stay, so we stayed at the New York Athletic Club [New York, New York] and at the time the New York Athletic Club had not admitted any African Americans, but they--$$This is in nineteen seventy--?$$Yes, this is 1976.$$Six [1976].$$And so it was quite interesting because they had to accept our reciprocal membership. And we ended up going there, and I remember two great stories. I had one of my cousins, who was at Princeton [Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey], undergraduate. I said, "You gotta come on up here and, and see this and be a part of this." His name was Les Bon, Jr. [ph.]. Steve and I were in a room, and three things of interest happened. The first one was when we were getting our shirts laundered and, and they, we were running out of time and so I asked Steve would he pop down to pick up our, our laundry for us, and he did. But, he told me a story while he was down there someone said to him, "Oh, when did you start working here?" Steve said, "I'm a member here, I'm not working." You know, he's a guest. The second one was when we were on the elevator and this very prominent New York lawyer looked at us and found it extraordinary, we struck a conversation, and by the time we got off the elevator he was handing us his card saying that if there's any trouble or any problems with you guys while you're in New York, here's my card, you know, you can call upon us. It's like, you know, we're, we're here as professionals why would we need your card? You see, but it's like his mentality was, he thought he could be helpful to us by, by providing us with legal protection in the event that (laughter)--. And the third one was when my, my young cousin who, who was at Princeton mind you, now here I am, I've finished law school, my brother is in law school, and my cousin is in Princeton. We're at the New York Athletic Club and, and they tell him as he comes in the front, "Applications are in the rear, you must go around to the back." And he said, "I'm actually here as a guest," and he made his way from there up. But this was a very interesting club. They, they, you could not walk through the lobby unless you had a tie on and full mask. I mean it's very high end, and yeah we were there and we were just running around doing our thing. We went on to the convention, we were in the front row nationally televised a few times 'cause my wife Jeanne [Jeanne Gore Roberts] as a matter of fact said some--she was in California at the time and some--she was at her aunt's house and said, "Aren't those the Roberts brothers from St. Louis?" And they had actually saw--it's just a small world, and we didn't even really, we knew each other by family members, but we didn't know each other within you know a year or so later. We actually re-met and dated, and she told, shared that story with me.$How important has the, has Roberts Broadcasting [Roberts Broadcasting Company] been in developing what now I guess anybody would consider to be a fortune? Was that the mainstay business that, that created the fortune?$$No, it was not the mainstay of business that created the fortune. It was a contributory, contributing factor. It, it was certainly nice strong assets that we continue to grow. We sold several of the stations. That's why we're at four now versus eleven because we needed that to fund the wireless phone company [Roberts Wireless Communications] that we wanted to get into. So in the middle '90s [1990s], when the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] was beginning to tell us you're gonna have to go digital from an analog signal we reali- we realized that ultimately the phones are going to have to go there. So, Kay Gavrett [ph.] and myself, someone here in my office, we, we started looking into it. We'd already been involved in the FCC on some other matters, and we realized that maybe we should get after these auctions, or this thing called the PCS phone company. Nobody understand what PCS [personal communications service] was. Back then the coolest person in the theater was the, was the guy who had the big suitcase and a phone inside of it, answering the phone in his shoulder or something.$$The one they call the brick now.$$Yeah.$$Yeah.$$But, as a futurist we saw the future. Steve [HistoryMaker Steven Roberts, Sr.] and I decided we were gonna after licenses, and we went into, we sold off some stations, got into the mix of doing that. We'd already taken another company public with our TV stations, Acme Communications that, where we dumped our, our Salt Lake City [Utah] and our Albuquerque [New Mexico] stations into that deal. That went public, and one of the things that we learned was when, when selling a station or merging it that you want to make sure that you only sell what they want, they the buyer want. And in the case of the TV stations really all they want is the, is the frequency, the rights to broadcast, because that's the core of it and they're accustomed to leasing tower space or studio space. So, we would keep the studios and towers and then lease back to our, to our sellers, our buyers and, and so, which became another structure later when he built our wireless phone company, our PCS company. I knew we needed a brand like Home Shopping [Home Shopping Network], well then we also needed a brand in, in wireless. We had licenses as a result of the auctions for, to build a phone company, a digital phone company, PCS, in, in all of, in half of Missouri except for St. Louis [Missouri], the, the eastern half of Missouri. We sa- we, well who are we gonna work with? We went to Sprint [Sprint PCS Group]. Sprint said, "Well, you're not our model for world development." See Sprint was building at this time, and this is the late '90s [1990s], they were beginning to build all over the United States, but the big cities. They had spent over $10 billion, but they knew that to build, to be ubiquitous they had to be all over the country. So all of their rural areas they were beginning to connect with, with wire line rural phone companies and giving them a wireless overlay. And, and when we came in and we should them that we, we were ready to go, we had our engineers, we had our experience, not in building phone companies, but building TV stations, a tower, an antenna, and a, and a big transmitter. Well, to build a wireless phone company it's a tower and antenna, and a little base station that goes back to a switch, I mean so theoretically it's, it's very similar. And I knew that digital was gonna be the future, so I figured if we can get into a phone company, being the only African American in history probably to own a phone company and build it, that would be pretty interesting; I don't know what color you are really. And so we cut a deal with Sprint, and Sprint said, "Well--." We tried to cut a deal with Sprint, and Sprint said, "You know you don't hit our motto. You're entrepreneurs, you're not these wire line rural phone companies." I said, "Yes, but I already own half the state and you see we have the capability to do it, now what you need to do with us is make a decision, either be prepared to compete with me or bring, bring me into the fold." Within two or three months later, we got a call, "Can we have dinner?" At that point, they said, "We want you." We were the first entrepreneurial group to, to, to do it.$$Now what year is this?$$This would have been in, in roughly the year 2000 more or less.$$Okay.$$Two thousand [2000], 2001, we're rolling into that period of time.