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Deborah Roberts

Listen to curated clips of this oral history:
Clip 1: Community of Artists
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Clip 2: Development As An Artist
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Clip 3: Galleries
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Clip 4: Images Of The Pickaninny
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Clip 5: Racism And Inequality
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Download Teacher Questions for this oral history in .pdf format

Biographical Notes
Deborah Roberts is a native of Austin, Texas.  She grew up and still lives on the city’s east side. A graduate of the University of North Texas in Denton, Ms. Roberts has been working as a professional artist for seventeen years. Her work has been shown in galleries in Austin, as well as Houston, Dallas and Chicago. Her work is also part of the private collections of Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey. She received the Presidential Point of Light Award in 1994 for her free summer art program for children, Success Comes in Cans, Not Cannots.                                                     

Abstract February 8, 2006
Ms. Roberts’s discusses her experiences in the Austin Independent School District, including attending Sims Elementary and being bused to Austin’s sixth grade center at Travis Heights Elementary.  She briefly touches upon her junior and senior high experiences. She discusses her experience of class and race divisions in different settings, particularly focusing on a citywide accelerated program for art students that she participated in during high school. While discussing her educational experiences, Ms. Roberts tracks the role that art, particularly painting, plays in her life. Ms. Roberts also charts her relationships with her family members, focusing on the role her grandmothers played in her upbringing. She also discusses her mother and father and their professions: her mother was a domestic and her father worked for the city doing the work of an electrician. Ms. Roberts also discusses the eight years in which she practiced her art and owned an art gallery in Westlake. Finally, Ms. Roberts touches upon her current artistic work.

Abstract April 4, 2006
Ms. Roberts’s talks about her approach to her artwork. She names Norman Rockwell as the largest influence on her early work, a period during which she painted everyday scenes from African American life. She explains her more recent work, which focuses on the image of the pickaninny and uses abstract techniques to manipulate the images of African Americans produced by non-African American communities. Ms. Roberts discusses the role that rap music plays in the creation of African American culture. She talks about the changing community of East Austin, and how both her parents’ and her own neighborhoods have changed in terms of population and services. Finally, Ms. Roberts discusses her role in educational programs with children, particularly her own program “Success Comes in Cans, Not In Cannots,” for which she won a Presidential Point of Light Award.


Disclaimer:
“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”

Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.


Deborah Roberts

Interviewee:
Deborah Roberts

Interviewer:
Clare Croft

Date of Interview:
February 8, April 4, 2006

Place:
Deborah Robertís home, Austin, Texas

Recording Format:
Edirol digital recorder, Uncompressed wave file

Transcriber:
Clare Croft