“Patricia Roberts Harris is one of those quiet warriors whose life stands as a testament to excellence, tenacity, and commitment to change.”
~ National Museum of African American History & Culture
On May 31, 1924, a baby girl was born to Bert Fitzgerald Roberts and Hildren Brodie (née Johnson) in Mattoon, Illinois; she was named Patricia. After her parents separated when she was six years old, Patricia was primarily reared by her mother and grandmother.
A bright girl, she excelled in learning in the public-school system of Illinois, even earning academic scholarship offers from five different universities, including Howard University, a historically Black institution of higher learning in Washington, D.C. She selected to matriculate Howard, where she served as the Vice-Chairman of the institution’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her political activism with the organization included her involvement in one of the earliest lunch counter sit-ins in America. Her induction into Phi Beta Kappa was natural, as her intellectual growth and accomplishments led her to graduate summa cum laude in 1945.
The following year, Roberts returned home to Illinois and pursued graduate studies in industrial relations at the University of Chicago. During this time, she acted as a program director for the Young Women’s Christian Association in Chicago. In 1949, she moved back to the nation’s capital, completing more graduate courses at American University while working as an assistant director of the American Council on Human Rights. Also at this time, Roberts served as the first National Executive Director of Delta Sigma Theta, a national Black sorority of which she was a member.