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The Gainsboro History Project

Dr. James Henry Roberts

Dr. James Henry Roberts (1882-1969) spent his career serving the medical needs of Roanoke residents. His many patients remembered that he often wore a rose on his lapel.

Born on November 18, 1882, in Culpeper, Virginia, he graduated from Howard University’s preparatory school in 1902, then the university’s undergraduate program in 1906, and finally from its School of Medicine in 1910. After completing a year-long internship at Freedmen’s Hospital, he moved to Roanoke’s Gainsboro neighborhood and opened a private practice. By 1916 he had established an office in the Cosmopolitan Building at 29 Gilmer Avenue, NW (later numbered as 103 Gilmer Avenue, NW), where he practiced throughout his life.

Burrell Memorial Hospital and Medical Career

Recognizing a need for improved medical opportunities for African American residents of Roanoke, Dr. Roberts was one of five co-founders of Burrell Memorial Hospital, opening the institution in 1915. He took on many roles at the hospital, including chief of staff, chief of the obstetrical department, pathologist, assistant chief of the gynecological department, and organizer of the prenatal clinic. In addition to his roles as a physician, he served as the president of the Burrell Memorial Hospital Association and was chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Posed photo of Dr. Roberts in a suit
Dr. James H. Roberts, Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries

During World War I, Dr. Roberts was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s Medical Corps. He served as the head of the examining board at the hospital for enlisted personnel during World War II.

Active in many local, regional and national medical organizations, Dr. Roberts served as president of the Association of Former Interns and Residents of Freedmen’s Hospital, the Old Dominion Medical Society, and the Magic City Medical Society, of which he was a co-founder. He was the secretary of the National Medical Association’s surgical sector and was a member of the Roanoke Academy of Medicine, the Virginia Medical Society, and the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Roberts was committed to serving Gainsboro’s residents both in and out of the hospital. For 18 years he served as a medical advisor to Lucy Addison High School’s sports teams, a role which he also performed for the William A.Hunton Branch YMCA’s Board of Management for 19 years. He was also a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the NAACP.

Personal Life

Dr. Roberts married Alice Barnette on September 1, 1917, and the two lived at 411 Gilmer Avenue, NW, for the rest of their lives. They had three children: Margaret Roberts, Alice B. Roberts, and James H. Roberts Jr.

See Also


Dr. Roberts dies; practiced 50 yrs. (1969, Nov. 15). The Afro-American.

Funeral rites conducted for Roanoke physician. (1969, Nov. 22). New Journal and Guide.

Graduates and ex-students. (1917, Jan.–Dec.) The Southern Workman XLVI. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

James Henry Roberts, founder of hospital. (1969, Nov. 22). The Afro-American.