African American Studies


Beverly Roberts (b. 06/09/51) is the president of the Parkchester branch of the NAACP. Roberts was born and raised in New York. She lived in San Juan Hill in Manhattan until she was five, and then she, her three siblings, and her New York- born mother moved to the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx. At the time, Roberts’ family was part of West Farms’ minority black population. Beverly, her mother, and her siblings faced prejudice and intimidation from white (predominately Jewish) children and adults. Consequently, the Roberts’ set about earning their community’s respect. Beverly’s mother was very strict toward her children: she insisted that they work hard in school, that they keep a curfew, that they dress well and keep themselves neat, and that they not give in to the intimidation practices of their neighbors. During this time, Roberts’ mother worked as a child care provider. She would watch children in the neighborhood while their parents were at work. Because she was so adept at raising both her own and other people’s children, the white community gradually began respecting the Roberts family.

Beverly was one of the only black students in her class initially, but as the years went on, more Hispanics began moving to the area and whites began moving out of West Farms. She quickly made friends with students from all different backgrounds, and she recalls her pre-adolescent and teenage years with fondness. The community was close-knit, and she spent a good deal of time socializing with the children in the neighborhood. Beverly was an excellent student, and in junior high, a perspicacious teacher realized the extent of her talents and put her on an accelerated learning track. During this time she began tutoring the less advanced students, which gave her valuable experience in communicating ideas to others. Through another teacher, she gained an appreciation for classical music and current events—her education was thus very well-rounded. Throughout her junior high and high school years, Beverly worked several jobs to help support her family. Immediately after her graduation from James Monroe high school, Roberts married her sweetheart from junior high, a Polish man named Robert Piechowiak. Her husband was a supervisor for a phone company at first, and then he made his living as a cab driver. The couple faced a good deal of prejudice and resistance, since interracial marriage was very uncommon in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s in the Bronx. The two had trouble finding an apartment, since landlords did not want to rent or sell to interracial couples. In addition, there were racial tensions on both sides: blacks and whites did not approve of the union in their different ways, and Roberts’ husband constantly got into altercations. Eventually, they moved to Parkchester, and while they still found that they were a minority, the residents were more curious than threatening. Roberts fell in love with Parkchester, and has been there ever since. Her marriage produced a son, in 1969, but the couple divorced after 8 years. The two went their separate ways, although they kept in touch until Piechowiak’s death as a result of a motorcycle accident in 2001.

During this time, Roberts got involved with community activism. Inspired by the civil rights movement and the widespread perception of the Bronx as a desiccated, depressed community, she began doing what she could to ensure the prosperity of her neighborhood. She worked as a recruiter for the NAACP, opposed condos in Parkchester, and began working to secure black candidates in office. She gradually worked her way up to the top of the Parkchester NAACP administration, and was president at the time of interview.

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