Kirk Roberts, son of Hilton Roberts, center, and his family, Robin, left, Kayla and Kristin, right. (Photo by James Fields)

By Daryl Moore
Special to the AFRO

Mayor Brandon Scott officially dedicated Baltimore City Fire Station 52 to Hilton L. Roberts, one of the first African-American firefighters in the city, in a renaming ceremony on Sept. 23.  This honor recognizes Roberts’ legacy and highlights his amazing career. 

His son, Keith Roberts said that in 1953 his father, along with seven others, graduated in the first class of African-Americans from the Baltimore City Fire Department Academy.  

“Truly, these brave men were pioneers in this unique field of public service at a period of time wrought with sacrifice, danger, hostility and racial turmoil,” Robert said. “He performed his service to the community selflessly, knowing that their work and conduct reflected not only on themselves but also on the African-American community at large.” 

Hilton Roberts was committed to providing a positive role model and promoting harmony within the community, his son said.  

Affectionately, adults called him “Fire Fighter,” while children called him “Uncle Hilton.” According to his son, Roberts was well-known throughout the city and helped promote the new diversity of the Baltimore City Fire Department by riding the bus in full work uniform and freely engaging in conversation with the riders. An avid reader of books, periodicals and newspapers, Hilton Roberts would often find himself routinely surrounded whenever he entered a barbershop, as patrons seemed to wait in line merely to ask his opinion on a variety of subjects of the day. 

Roberts’ son further talked about how at work, his father voluntarily spent countless hours beyond the normal shift whenever the need arose.  “He took firefighting personally, was well respected by his peers and routinely acted as the on-site team leader,” said the younger Roberts.  “In a Baltimore News Post article dated Wednesday, December 2, 1959, he is photographed with several others receiving a commendation for heroism from then Fire Board President, James J. Lacy. This was simply one documented event. However, his work ethic and love for the fire department was never to garner praise for himself. He gave his all to the cause of firefighting and public service as evidenced by an untimely on-duty accident that shattered his leg and resulted in his retirement after a long career of honorable service.”

Other awards and/or recognition Hilton has received, according to his son: 

US Navy Veteran of WWII
National Defense Medal
Honorable Service Medal
Honorable Discharge Petty Officer Third Class
Graduate of Baltimore City Fire Academy
Commendation for Heroism – News Post Article w/photo 12-2-1959

Though Hilton A. Roberts died in 1980, Keith and his family members still remember a few of his famous quotes: “If you are going to do a job, do your best, or don’t do it not at all” and “Never look down on a man doing an honest day’s work, even if he’s digging a ditch.”

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