Early Shaw University Dean and Acting President Honored With Historical Marker

Shaw University graduate and former Shaw University Divinity School Dean, Dr. Nicholas F. Roberts, was honored by the dedication and placement of a historical marker on the lawn of the Town Hall in Seaboard, North Carolina.

Roberts was born in Seaboard in 1849. He worked on a farm during the day while studying at night to prepare for his academic pursuits. He enrolled at Shaw University — then Shaw Collegiate Institute — in 1871 and was a member of the institution’s first graduating class in 1878. Upon graduation from Shaw, Roberts was principal of the Peabody School in Warrenton for one session before accepting a position as a mathematics professor and head of the department of mathematics at his alma mater. During his tenure of over 50 years, he served as Shaw’s dean of faculty, dean of the School of Theology (where he earned his doctor of divinity degree), vice president, and Acting President from November 1893 to March 1894. This followed the death of Shaw founder Henry Martin Tupper, making Roberts the HBCU’s first African American president.

Roberts’ great-grandson, Bobby Scott, a U.S. congressman who represents Virginia’s Third Congressional District, stated: “I am very grateful to the State of North Carolina and the town of Seaboard for this historical marker honoring my great-grandfather, Dr. Nicholas Franklin Roberts. He spent his life serving his community in a variety of capacities including as an educator, a pastor, a journalist, and an elected official. His life story is integral to African American history in the region.”

The historical market reads:

NICHOLAS ROBERTS 1849-1934

African American editor & pastor. Professor and administrator, Shaw Univ. Leader in state Baptist organizations. He lived in Seaboard until 1871.

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