Needham Roberts’ Childhood Home

The dwelling formerly located at 48 Wilson Street which is no longer extant, was the boyhood home of Needham Roberts (1901-1949), a hero of World War I. Roberts was the son of Norman and Emma Roberts, North Carolina natives who relocated to New Jersey c. 1890. By 1900, the Roberts family was living on Wilson Street in Trenton. Roberts reportedly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 and was assigned to the 369th Infantry. Known as the Harlem Hellfighters, the all-Black regiment was among the first to arrive in France when the United States entered the war. In May 1918, while defending an isolated outpost in the Argonne Forest, Roberts and another African-American soldier, Corporal Henry Johnson, were attacked by a German unit of 20 men. Despite being badly outnumbered and wounded, the two men fought valiantly and repelled the attack. Both men were awarded the Croix de Guerre medal by the French government, becoming the first Americans to receive the honor. Roberts and Johnson returned to the United States as heroes, with a celebration held in Trenton in Roberts’ honor upon his return. Despite the initial fanfare, Roberts’ contributions were largely unrecognized by the United States government, which posthumously awarded him the Purple Heart in 1996. Little is known of Roberts’ life after his return from the war. He married Margaret Burrell of Princeton around 1919, and the couple had a daughter, Juanita, in the same year. Roberts was self-employed as a lecturer in 1920 and completed a speaking tour in Ohio sponsored by the YMCA. He struggled with the lingering effects of his wounds in the years that followed, however, and in 1949 Roberts and his wife committed suicide in Newark, where they then lived. He is buried in Newark.

Address: 48 Wilson Street, Trenton, NJ 08618

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