Jim Roberts, one of Loudoun County’s leading authorities on the history of its people of color, their traditions, their communities, their churches and the people who have contributed to the county’s growth and development, has not only preserved, protected, and taught that history, he has contributed to it, as a veteran, an entrepreneur, firefighter, scout leader, and family man.
His family had lived, survived, and prevailed in Loudoun County since well before the Civil War.
His mother’s grandfather, born a slave, learned to read in a time in which it was forbidden, became a miller, a preacher and a builder of churches. Building became, and remains, a family tradition.
Roberts was the sixth of ten children born to Edward and Irene Roberts in the segregated Leesburg following the Great Depression.
He attended the old Leesburg Elementary School, and graduated from Douglas High in 1956. The most important parts of his education, he insists, came from “William and Mary:” his grandfather William Henry Roberts and his wife, Mary, who came to Leesburg from Fauquier County well before the First World War.
After high school, Roberts joined the United States Navy, where he served three tours in the Mediterranean aboard the destroyer Douglas H. Fox, herself a badly wounded and highly decorated veteran of the WWII battles around Okinawa.
In 1960 he came home, married his high school sweetheart, and started civilian life in Middleburg. Over the course of their more than half a century together, they have watched their two daughters and a son finish degrees at some of the state’s best universities, and build successful careers in education, finance and law enforcement.
In the two decades he spent in Middleburg he built and ran Roberts Taxi. He was the Middleburg Volunteer Fire Department’s first black firefighter, and was awarded its Firefighter of the Year Award in 1978. Working in Delaplane, using photography skills he picked up in the Navy, he developed and printed rare photographs that are now a part of the permanent research collection at the Holocaust Museum.
He then came “home” to Leesburg, where he started yet another business, one of the earliest to focus on closet and storage organization.
He has spent nearly half a century as an active member of the Boy Scouts of America. He was a Scoutmaster for 18 years, and is credited with starting the first integrated troop in the county.
“Retired,” Roberts still teaches Sunday school and sings in the choir at Mt. Zion Methodist, works with Habitat for Humanity every summer on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, serves on the Thomas Balch Library Commission and as a tour guide and docent at the Loudoun County Museum, on the board of directors for both the Old Stone Church in Leesburg and the Mount Zion Community Cemetery and more.
View his video below.