Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.
Every oral history relies on the memories, views, and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.
The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.
All citations must be attributed to Brooklyn Historical Society:
[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
These interviews are made available for research purposes only. For more information about other kinds of usage and permissions, see BHS’s rights and reproductions policy.
Oral history interview conducted by Alexandra Kelly
June 11, 2013
Call number: 2011.019.056
ALEX KELLY: So, my name is Alex Kelly, and I am interviewing Anna Roberts. Andwe are sitting here at 40 West 20th Street, New York City. And it is June 11th, 2013. So, Anna, I just want to start out by asking you if you can tell me a little bit about where you come from.
ANNA ROBERTS: OK. Well, I usually, I give a long spiel when people say, "Whereare you from?" Because I have lived in lots of places in the United States. I sort of moved around once every four years, from the time I was born. So I was born, upstate New York, and then moved to Hudson, Massachusetts, and like Central Mass, for a couple of years, when I was little. And then to Philadelphia, and then to Larchmont, New York; and then to Gaithersburg, Maryland, where I went to high school. And that is currently where my parents 1:00still are. So, as far as, like, from home town, that's that. And as far as from other places, I think my -- I think about where I'm from, as far as, like, my heritage, as much more -- it's very American, actually. And my father is -- his grandparents are from the Virgin Islands. And my mother's grandparents are from Switzerland, but I don't think that they -- I don't think my mom knows much about her grandparents. But my dad has been searching about his parents, because he's come -- his family has come here by way of the slave trade. And so, yeah. So that's where I am. That's me. (laughter) That's where I come from. I know it's a long list. Yeah.
ALEX KELLY: So, what has your father told you about his part of the family?
ANNA ROBERTS: Well, he -- he's actually, in much more recent years, more than2:00before, has been trying to sort of like track down his dad's side of the family. So I give you a -- can I give you a little bit of background about my dad's family, because it's a funny, it's an interesting bunch.
So, my dad was born in Queens. And his father and mother were together for awhile, and then when he was nine, they split up. And his father married a white Jewish woman, from the Bronx. And it was sort of like -- I don't know, we like to joke in our family that it was sort of like a sort of like biracial Brady bunch type of situation. In the early, or I guess, like, mid- to late '60s, and they all lived on the lower East Side. And it was my dad and my uncle, his brother, from my grandfather's side of the family. And then his stepmother, but I call her Granny, and her two daughters, and so it was sort of like this 3:00melding and meshing of families. And that's his, like, family. That's his family memory.
His mother, he's kept in touch with, but, basically, as far as who I think of asmy grandparents, it's like my grandmother, my dad's stepmom, Sunny, and then his father, Al. Or Papa. And so, only much more recently has he begun to sort of like dig into his biological mother's roots, and his father's roots, and what he's come up with is that, they -- yes, they were, I think, mostly on his dad's side of the family, I believe they're from the Virgin Islands, as far as he can gather. And I think that one of -- this is -- it gets complicated, I'm going to have to think about it for a second. But one of his -- so I guess, his -- like, 4:00his father -- so my dad's grandfather inherited land that was passed down, and I think -- I don't know exactly how it changed hands, I think that's also part of what he's trying to figure out. But I believe -- I mean, it used to be a plantation, and somehow changed hands and got -- and my great-- or my grandfather, yeah, my great-grandfather ended up owning that land, somehow. But we're not exactly sure. And yeah, and basically, and somehow, they also came over -- it's very unclear, but basically, Virgin Islands, and some sort of exchange of land, in some capacity. And that's -- that's basically the extent, that's the extent of that.
There's some, like, hearsay, about -- so every man in my family, on my father'sside, has a middle name Alexander, or Alexandra, or something like that. And it's because, what he's gathered is that, Alexander Hamilton, [5:00] at a 5:00certain point, owned land that my father's family and ancestors have, like, were working for him on that land, as slaves. And th 6:00 7:00 8:00 9:00 10:00 11:00 12:00 13:00 14:00 15:00 16:00 17:00 18:00 19:00 20:00 21:00 22:00 23:00 24:00 25:00 26:00 27:00 28:00 29:00 30:00 31:00 32:00 33:00 34:00 35:00 36:00 37:00 38:00 39:00 40:00 41:00 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00
Oral History Interview with Anna Roberts
The Narrator was born in upstate New York and is a 22 years-old female. Her mother is White with grandparents from Switzerland and her father is Black with grandparents from the Virgin Islands. The Narrator recently graduated from Smith College and currently lives in Harlem, Manhattan. She works as an assistant to the Executive Director of Relay Graduate School of Education.
In this interview the Narrator reflects on her mixed race identity through describing a childhood where she moved "almost every four years," each school experience bringing a different understanding about where she was from and who she is today. The Narrator reflects on her experience as a student at Smith College; one that allowed her to reflect on her identity "in a more theoretical way" as see "race as something bigger than her family."
The Narrator also describes her parents throughout the interview: Explaining her father's search for his heritage, her parents' marriage and the way in which it was viewed by their family at the time, and the ways in which each of her parents address race through conversation and decisions in schooling for the Narrator and her brother.
The Narrator's interest in New York City is rooted in her father's experience growing up in the Lower East Side in a mixed race family ("a biracial Brady Bunch"). The Narrator first explored living in New York City during her summers throughout college. Although she has never lived in Brooklyn, she has come to explore it through frequent visits to a friend's place in Park Slope.
At the end of the interview, the Narrator reflects on her family structure, verbally sketching out a family tree which highlights the fact that her and her brother are the only mixed race "kids" in the family.
CitationRoberts, Anna, Oral history interview conducted by Alexandra Kelly, June 11, 2013, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.056; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Roberts, Anna
- Education, Higher
- Racially mixed families
- Racially mixed people
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Larchmont (N.Y.)
- Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection