From drudgery to prominence.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
REV. NICHOLAS FRANKLIN ROBERTS, A. B., A. M.
Professor of Mathematics–President of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina–Moderator of 100,000 Colored Baptists.
AMONG the rising young men of the old “Tar Heel State” is the one whose name is at the head of this article. He has reflected honor upon the State that gave him birth; he is a young man who has risen from the drudgery of farm life to the prominence of a professor in a university, and is therefore a representative of his people. There are many older persons, of course, who might be selected, and some may bring the charge of “young men” against some of the characters in this book, but if in early life they have placed themselves at the head of great enterprises, it seems fitting that they should be noticed for the encouragement of others who come behind them. Then the depths from which some people rise, and the heights to which they climb, is worthy of notice. Now is there reason for the farmer boy who reads this sketch to be discouraged because he has hard work, plowing, cutting and hauling wood, caring for the pigs, feeding the cows, and other laborious work? It seems not to me. The advantages of a farm life are many, though there may be rough spots and difficult passages. Indeed, the days of a farmer are well spent in being influenced by nature and thus being led up to nature’s God. Boys in the country have their minds measurably kept pure and untainted by the things that destroy the purity of the mind, and many of these “young men” referred to are mentioned as a means of encouragement to those who still are behind in the race of life.
He was born near Seaboard, North Hampton county, North Carolina, October 13, 1849. At the age of twelve years he relates that he had a thirst for learning, which made him apply himself to his books very diligently. He would study very late at night, often all night. The young man was especially apt with figures, easily leading the other boys, with whom he was associated, in all efforts at mathematical calculation. With ease every problem was solved by him in common school mathematics before he ever attended school. His mathematical mind was the subject of much comment, and he has only accomplished in that sphere what was prophesied for him. October 10, 1871, he entered Shaw University, then known as the Shaw Collegiate Institute. Here he pursued an eminently satisfactory life, entering the lowest grade and passing up the line through a college course, eliciting the praise and commendation of the president and faculty. May, 1878, he graduated with much honor and received the applause of his fellow-students and the congratulations of his friends.
Having been converted March, 1872, and feeling a call to the ministry, he was ordained to the work of a gospel minister May 20, 1877. Rev. Roberts’ ability as a mathematician has steadily promoted him in this department of educational work, and the professorship of mathematics has been held by him in his alma mater ever since graduation, except one year when he labored as general missionary for North Carolina, under the auspices of the American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York, and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. God has thus given him an extended field of usefulness where he might develop into a powerful man. Blount Street Baptist church, Raleigh, North Carolina, called for him to serve them as their pastor on July 2, 1882. This pastoral work has been done in connection with his work as professor, and they have been of mutual help to each other. There is great love existing between the pastor and the people, and the church has prospered, adding year by year to their numbers “such as shall be saved.” As a Sabboth-school worker, earnestness and love to God has characterized his life. From 1873 to 1883, a period of ten consecutive years, he has held the position of president of the State Sunday School convention, and in October, 1885, he was unanimously elected president of the State Baptist convention, which position he now holds, esteemed by all the brethren of the State. His position makes him the representative of 100,000 colored Baptists, and as such he is recognized and respected. His position in the university gives him prestige among the educated, and his indorsement by the convention shows the people are in favor of education.
From Rev. William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887).
In the 1850 census of Northampton County: Ransom Roberts, 60, farmer; Lavina, 50; Jonathan, 27, blacksmith; Peterson, 24, William, 22, and John, 20, laborers; Mary, 27; Atha, 78; and Nicholas Roberts, 2.
Nicholas Franklin Roberts. Died 24 June 1934, Raleigh, Wake County. Resided 401 Oberlin Road, Raleigh. Colored. Married to Mary S. Roberts. Retired dean of theological school. Born 13 October 1849 in Northampton County to unknown father and Mary Roberts. Buried Mount Hope. Informant, Dr. P.F. Roberts, Raleigh.