A well-known, innovative businessperson, Bert M. Roddy founded the first African-American-owned grocery chain in Memphis. He was born in Augusta, Arkansas, on August 19, 1886, to Jerry and Harriette McKenny Roddy.
When he was a young boy, Roddy and his family moved to Memphis, where he attended and later graduated from LeMoyne Normal Institute. Roddy had a great interest in promoting racial progress and participating in business and civic activities that benefited African Americans. He was one of the early stockholders of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company, established in 1906, and he became cashier of the bank in 1914. During this period, he and a friend, Robert S. Lewis Sr., opened the Iroquois Café, a popular spot on Beale Street. Another friend who assisted in managing this enterprise was Mordecai W. Johnson, who later became president of Howard University in Washington, D.C.
In 1916 he joined a political organization, the Lincoln League, and became a candidate for the state Senate on the Lincoln League ticket. The ticket lost, but the Lincoln League became a respected political organization in Memphis, Tennessee, and the nation. Roddy was the first president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP, established in 1917.
Roddy’s business prowess drew him to establish Citizen’s Cooperative Stores in 1920. There were fourteen of these stores at the peak of the business’s success, along with several dozen employees and a fleet of delivery trucks, but the stores met their demise due to the recession of the 1920s and increased market competition.
An active church member, Roddy was a member of Second Congregational Church for many years and was superintendent of the church’s Sunday school as well as a trustee.
Roddy organized the syndicate that launched the Supreme Life and Casualty Company of Ohio, founded by Truman K. Gibson Sr. Later the company moved to Chicago and became known as the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. Moving to Chicago with his family, Roddy became the assistant agency officer of Supreme in 1931 and retained this position until he retired in 1957. He died in 1963.