Black History Month starts today.  I’d like to kick it off by honoring Elizabeth’s own –  Chessie Dentley Roberts. Admittedly, I’m biased. Chessie taught me civil rights as a student at Roosevelt Junior High School. She was a civil rights and education trailblazer in Union County and throughout New Jersey and the United States.

At the dedication of School 30 in Elizabeth named in her honor Elizabeth BOE President, Stephanie G. Pestana, said, “Chessie Roberts is a trailblazer and historical treasure.” Elizabeth Council member Patricia Perkins-Auguste said, “Mrs. Chessie Robert’s a lifelong educator for all the right reasons. Mrs. Roberts realized early in life the value education can have on society and she continues to dedicate her life to educating and liberating everyone she comes in contact with, just as the matriarchs who have paved the way before her Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth and so many other women. We honor Mrs. Chessie Roberts for her lifelong dedication to humanity.”

Pictured left to right: Chessie Dentley Roberts, Elizabeth BOE member, Maria Z. Carvalho; Elizabeth Council member Patricia Perkins-Auguste; and Elizabeth BOE President, Stephanie G. Pestana


Chessie Roberts worked with future United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to sue the City of Elizabeth to desegregate its public housing and, with the assistance of the NAACP, was the first African American teacher hired to teach general education in the Elizabeth Public School System. Previously, African American educators were only hired to teach Special Education. 

At the age of 94, Chessie is still active through her church, civil rights and senior citizen organizations and has received numerous awards during her illustrious career and life. 

The list of African Americans who contributed to the history of America is long and illustrious. For me, Chessie Robers Dentley is at the top.