NEAR THE END of my luncheon-interview with Michael V. Roberts,
47, and Steven C. Roberts, 43, in the Tenderloin Room, Akbar
Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam's
Louis Farrakhan, approached our table. He wanted the Roberts
brothers to join him at his table after they had finished.
The Robertses' association with Farrakhan may seem odd at
first. They are known for their relatively moderate views (Steven
once endorsed Republican John Ashcroft for governor) and their
cordial relations with the white power structure here (Chuck
Knight's a friend).
But they are businessmen, too, and Farrakhan's Nation of Islam
mosque is located in the brothers' Kingsway Center building on
North Kingshighway, once a sprawling Sears & Roebuck store.
The two say they also appreciate Farrakhan's emphasis on family
and the need for African-American men to be responsible to their
wives and children. Michael described how young men are taught
rigid discipline at the mosque.
Kingsway Center is just three blocks from the Vernon Avenue
house in which Michael and Steven got their early discipline from
parents Victor and Delores Roberts. Victor, who retired from the
U.S. Postal Service after 39 years, serves as chief financial
officer of Roberts-Roberts & Associates, Inc.; Delores is a retired
Michael is married to former schoolteacher Jeanne Gore, and
they have four children: 16-year-old twins Michael Jr. and Jeanne;
Fallon, 13, and Meaghan, 11.
Steven is married to Dr. Eva Frazer, director of internal
medicine for the downtown Barnes Clinic. They have three children:
Steven, II, 7; Christian, 5, and Darci, 19 months.
Each Roberts brother has sought the Democratic nomination for
St. Louis mayor - Michael in 1989; Steven in 1993. Michael also
ran unsuccessfully for aldermanic president in 1983 and 1987. Each
has served as a St. Louis alderman.
Each is a lawyer and lives with his family in a house on
Lindell Boulevard, facing Forest Park. The brothers are partners in
an empire of businesses that runs from owning television stations
to managing commercial real estate to the installation of
They speak proudly of their heritage, which they can trace back
four generations to Tennessee. Their ancestors, they say, made
holes in the bases of their homes to return the gunfire of Klansmen.
Their quest for success began as their parents struggled to
make ends meet.
"They had a catering business at one point and served wealthy,
white families," said Michael. "That ignited our entrepreneuring
One client for whom they catered was Lawrence K. Roos, when the
former St. Louis County supervisor headed Mound City Bank.
Dressed in conservative suits ("We buy everywhere - from Syms
to Neiman Marcus," said Steven), they ordered salads for lunch. At
one point, both were distracted from our conversation - Steven
checked his pager, Michael exchanged bon mots with another diner -
and maitre d' Johnny Psara looked at both of them approvingly and
said to me, "They know how to treat waiters. They even make me feel
Here's an edited version of the interview:
Berger: Steve, we've talked about your humble beginnings, but
now you have an empire. Where does the capital come from? Who is
Steven Roberts: If you looked at two angels, particularly two
guardian angels, I guess you're looking at Victor and Delores
Roberts. We believe they have given us the strength, the
motivation, and in a sense even the morality, as we have begun to
shape our lives.
There is no capital source, everything that we have done has
been a struggle. Surprisingly, even today, having two television
stations, hoping to build one more in the next six months and maybe
two more after that, having a successful real estate business
through the old Sears building - even with all of those successful
efforts, we still find it difficult to find lending sources in the