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One Tank Trips: Roberts Building in 18th & Vine District

Homer B. Roberts was one of the nation's first Black automobile dealers.
homer b roberts
homer b roberts
homer b roberts
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-04 23:47:45-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This Black History Month, we want to take the time to highlight Homer B. Roberts, one of the nation's first Black automobile dealers who set up shop in Kansas City, Missouri.

Born just outside of Springfield in 1885, he was raised in Kansas. Roberts attended Tuskegee Institute and studied electrical engineering at Kansas State Agricultural College.

Roberts was also a veteran of World War I and was the first Black man to earn the rank of lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Back in Kansas City, when Roberts saw a disparity between white automobile dealers and Black consumers, he decided to bridge the gap by purchasing vehicles wholesale to then sell to Black clientele.

Not only was Roberts known for selling cars to the Black community, but he also ran print ads in the local newspaper highlighting the professionals, by name, who he sold to in the community, a highly successful tactic.

The Roberts Building — which served as a car dealership, office space, showroom, pharmacy, ice cream shop, etc. — is still standing in the 18th and Vine District, but it is in total disrepair.

Community members hope to see something done to preserve this piece of history.