Updated: Feb 28
As we celebrate Black History Month, we look to those in the Black community who have shaped Texas.
Not many know the story of Texas Innovator Jaromey Roy Roberts Sr. (1913 - 2004), a businessman, builder, and mortgage financier in Houston. Mr. Roberts was born in Tamina, Texas, on May 1, 1913. He was the seventh of twelve children. At 13, his family moved to Houston, where he attended Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1929. After graduation, Mr. Roberts enrolled in Houston Colored Junior College, which came to be Texas Southern University. He dropped out after one year. Mr. Roberts shined shoes in the barbershop at the segregated Rice Hotel in downtown Houston to make a living. He later went back to college at Texas College in Tyler, Texas, in 1934. During his time at Texas College, Mr. Roberts became a founding father of a Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc chapter. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry with a minor in biology in 1938.
After graduation, Mr. Roberts returned to Houston. He began his first construction project, four-unit apartments and duplexes for renting and selling in the Fifth Ward, a musically rich neighborhood on the east side of downtown Houston. He then founded Roberts Brothers Realty Company with his brothers Earl and A.B.
As World War II began and building materials became scarce, the brothers opened Roberts Brothers Grocery Store. Mr. Roberts was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, serving the duration of the war and achieving the rank of sergeant.
Upon his return, Mr. Roberts studied law for one year at Texas Southern University School of Law from 1947 to 1948, later obtaining business administration and accounting certificates from La Salle University extension classes and nursing home administration from San Jacinto College.
The Growth of Mr. Roberts' Business and Family
Within a year of being honorably discharged from the army, Mr. Roberts began acquiring property in the Sunnyside area of Houston. In 1947 he opened his firm, Jay’s Lumber and Building Company, incorporated in 1955. His firm built countless residential homes, professional office buildings, churches, and apartments, helping shape Houston into what we know it as today.
In recognition of the challenges faced by the African American community to get financing, he created Jay’s Mortgage and Finance Company, Inc., where he served as president and chairman of the board.
Mr. Roberts met his wife, Mary Louise Brown, an elementary school teacher, and married on January 21, 1956. Their family grew with the births of their two children, Jarmese Lala and Jaromey II.
In the late 1950s, Jay’s Mortgage and Finance Company purchased 412 acres on Texas Highway 73, developing the subdivision Lakeside Park in Port Arthur. The development was described as featuring “6 Model Homes, 600 Homesites” with modern amenities, as one of the newest “exclusive Negro housing developments.”
In the 1960s, Mr. Roberts purchased a 38-bed nursing home in the Kashmere Gardens area in northeast Houston with his brother Earl Roberts and partner William Samuel. Jay’s Lumber and Building Company renovated and expanded the building to accommodate sixty patients in a modern facility named Silver Threads Nursing Home. Roberts served as the first nursing home administrator of the facility, later selling his interest in the property in 1969.
A Lasting Legacy
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Jay’s Lumber and Building Company was responsible for commercial projects that include the Judson Robinson & Sons building, Dr. Zeb F. Poindexter, Jr. Office Building, and Cullen Medical Plaza. Mr. Roberts also arranged financing to build the African American Cameron Iron Workers’ Social and Charity Club.
In 1970 Mr. Roberts planned and built a modern 100-patient-capacity nursing home, Manda Ann Convalescent Home, Incorporated, named after his mother in southeast Houston. The Manda Ann Convalescent Home opened in 1971 and remained operational until 2014.
In his later years, Mr. Roberts served as a senior consultant to the family businesses. He served as a consultant to Amenity Plus Homes, Incorporated, and Modern Tradition Management, which were partnerships between his wife, daughter, and son. Mr. Roberts was an active member of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church for seventy-eight years, holding numerous positions within the church.
Outside of the church, Mr. Roberts held a variety of professional and community-focused memberships, including the Houston Home Builders Association, Houston Real Estate Association, the NAACP, and many more. He not only helped shape the community through his work, but he gave back with his voice and his insight as an entrepreneur.
Jaromey Roy Roberts, Sr., died on July 21, 2004, at the age of ninety-one in Houston, leaving behind a well-established legacy that will be remembered for generations to come.
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