Distinguished Salvation Army Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday

Major Norma T. Roberts is a Servant of the Impoverished, Oppressed, and Marginalized

A scholar, teacher, and officer, Norma T. Roberts is known for her work in The Salvation Army Southern Territory during the era of racial segregation. Norma T. Roberts was born in Washington, DC, on March 19, 1922. She is a second-generation Salvationist, the daughter of Brigadier and Mrs. James N. Roberts.

Roberts answered the call to become a Salvation Army officer, applying at the Southern Territory’s School for Officer’s Training in 1945. She was denied a place there because of racial restrictions, but in her determination to follow and answer God’s calling in her life, she applied to the School for Officer’s Training in New York City. “I decided to give lifetime service to The Salvation Army, because through the Army, I can be of greater service to humanity,” she said. Following her commissioning in June 1947, her first appointment was in the Women’s Social Services Department of The Salvation Army Booth Memorial Hospital in New York.

In March 1949, Major Roberts transferred back to the Southern Territory and appointed an outpost in Little Rock, Arkansas. Roberts remained in that appointment for thirteen years. During her home visits, she discovered the poverty-stricken residents had stuffed the walls of their homes with cardboard and rags to keep out the cold; they used old trunks and garbage cans as end tables; and they covered some walls with old newspapers to hide the decaying, splintered boards. She agreed to a request from an Arkansas Gazette reporter to write about her ministry. Response to the article and its dramatic photos was sensational. The piece exposed a community in desperate need. The public’s response and support of her ministry resulted in a new state-of-the-art community center where anyone had the opportunity to assemble, worship, and enjoy recreation, all while sharing God’s love. Today it serves 5,000 people annually.

At the community center dedication in 1952, Major Norma Roberts said, “The Salvation Army strives to promote the spiritual and material welfare of people all over the world regardless of race or color. It seeks to bring the service to my people in the southland.” Major Roberts’ 38 years of officer service included several long appointments throughout the south and vigorous studies to achieve a master’s degree in social work. She retired as the territorial Social Services Secretary in June 1985. Since her retirement, Major Roberts has remained an active and faithful soldier of The Salvation Army of Fairfax while residing in a nearby retirement home.

In June 2021, territorial leaders Commissioners Willis and Barbara Howell announced that Major Norma Roberts received the Order of the Founder, the highest honor for distinguished service in The Salvation Army. Commissioner Willis Howell read from the certificate signed by General Brian Peddle that states the reason for the honor: “In recognition of her long and distinguished ministry which has pioneered the advancement and leadership influence of officers of African American descent, particularly in the USA Southern Territory. Her faithful service to impoverished, oppressed, and disenfranchised individuals reflects the highest standards of salvation.”

About The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army annually helps more than 23 million Americans overcome poverty, addiction, and economic hardships through a range of social services. By providing food for the hungry, emergency relief for disaster survivors, rehabilitation for those suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and clothing and shelter for people in need, The Salvation Army is doing the most good at 7,600 centers of operation around the country. In the first-ever listing of “America’s Favorite Charities” in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Salvation Army ranked as the country’s largest privately funded, direct-service nonprofit.