Needham Roberts

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Needham Roberts
Neadom Roberts by J. Raus.jpg
Needham Roberts 369th U.S. Infantry formerly the 15th N.Y.N.G. Decorated with the Croix De Guerre with Palm and wearing two service stripes and two wound stripes.
Born April 28, 1901
Trenton, New Jersey
Died April 18, 1949(1949-04-18) (aged 47)
Newark, New Jersey
Buried Fairmount Cemetery, Newark, New Jersey
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1918

New York Army National Guard

Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart
Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg Croix de guerre

Needham Roberts (April 28, 1901 – April 18, 1949) was an American soldier in the Harlem Hellfighters and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Croix de Guerre for his valor during World War I.

Early life[edit]

Roberts was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey.

World War I[edit]

While on guard duty on May 14, 1918, Roberts and private William Henry Johnson fought off a 24-man German patrol, though both were severely wounded. Both were awarded the Croix de Guerre for their actions. They also received the Purple Heart in 1932; for Johnson, this was a posthumous award.[1] In 2002, Johnson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; in 2015, this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.


Roberts was disabled by his wounds, and unable to maintain steady employment. He occasionally gave paid lectures about his wartime experiences, and in the early 1940s gave radio addresses and other speeches as part of the Army's effort to recruit African-Americans for World War II.

Death and burial[edit]

Roberts died in Newark, New Jersey on April 18, 1949, and was buried at Fairmount Cemetery in Newark.[2] According to news accounts, Roberts and his wife Iola jointly decided to commit suicide, and hung themselves in the basement of their home.[3] Newspaper accounts also indicated that they may have been motivated by the fact that he had been accused of molesting a child the day before.[4] In fact, Roberts had previously been arrested on a similar charge, which led to his first wife divorcing him.[5] Roberts had also been arrested in the 1920s for wearing his Army uniform after the post-war demobilization,[6] something which had also happened to Johnson.[7] As a result of this record, some authors believe it possible that the criminal charges against Needham and arrests were motivated by racism, rather than actual misconduct.


  1. ^ Martin, James B. (2014). African American War Heroes. ABC-CLIO. pp. 135–136. ISBN 9781610693660.
  2. ^ Needham Roberts at Find a Grave
  3. ^ McGhee, J.; Webber, H. B. (April 30, 1949). "New Facts brought to Light in Roberts Double Suicide". New York Age. New York, NY. p. 11. (Subscription required (help)).
  4. ^ Webber, Harry B. (April 30, 1949). "Jersey Journal". New York Age. New York, NY. p. 11. (Subscription required (help)).
  5. ^ "Jersey Journal".
  6. ^ Nelson, Peter N. (2009). A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters' Struggle for Freedom in WW I and Equality at Home. New York, NY: Civitas Books. p. 341. ISBN 978-0-465-00317-4.
  7. ^ Hill, Robert A. (1983). The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. I. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 293. ISBN 978-0-520-04456-2.

External links[edit]