Pvt First Class Penia Roberts
Our Hometown Heroes
World War I
Rich History Found in “Roberts Quarters”
Penia Roberts is one the 15 African American Soldiers from Spalding County who died like the other soldiers from Spalding County in World War I. However, only the white soldiers were recognized on the “Doughboy” statue in Veterans Memorial Park.
That all changed May, 2016, as the African American Soldiers who died in WWI were recognized for their bravery in the military by the Honor our KIA committee and a grateful community.
Private First Class Roberts was born the great-grandson of a slave owner and a slave woman in a small enclave of homes between Zebulon and Concord, known of as “Roberts Quarters.”
His parents, Edward and Rebecca Roberts, raised 14 children including four boys and ten girls. Penia was the oldest. During earlier days on the plantation, Judge Vincent Roberts allowed his slaves to worship, first in a brush arbor and then in a shed on the property. Later Judge Roberts and a neighbor donated land where a small church was built. The church stands today and an active congregation worships in Roberts Chapel.
Penia’s grandfather was the first trustee of the church and it is where the Hometown Hero both worshiped and attended school.
His teenage years were spent on the farm as a laborer. Little else is known about Roberts until he met and married a woman from Macon named Mary. Research and history do not share with us what happened to Mary after Penia’s death in service.
Drafted on December 30, 1918, Roberts went overseas to France. The young PFC came down with pneumonia, “Spanish Flu,” and died a short five weeks after WWI ended.
Penia’s body was eventually returned to the rural land he grew up on and loved. It now rests beneath a well maintained headstone, only a few feet from Roberts Chapel. Even today, the young man has a presence in the tiny cluster of homes within Roberts Quarters. Penia’s sister was grandmother to Susan Chaney. Chaney not only lives within a half-mile of Roberts Quarters, she also is a lay pastor and leads both services and revivals at the chapel.
After nearly one-hundred years, the once forgotten soldier is remembered. No doubt Penia Roberts would be proud. Very, very proud.