Edward Roybal was born on February 10, 1916, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the age of six, his family moved to the Boyle Heights barrio of Los Angeles, where he attended public schools. He graduated from Roosevelt High School and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. He subsequently continued his education at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he studied business administration, and at Southwestern University, where he studied law. From 1942 to 1944, he was a public health educator for the California Tuberculosis Association. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1945, he returned to Los Angeles and continued his work with the California Tuberculosis Association, becoming a director of health education for the Los Angeles County Tuberculosis and Health Association. In 1947, he created the Community Service Organization (CSO). As president of the organization, Roybal led a crusade against discrimination in housing, employment, and education. In 1949, the CSO held voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives in East Los Angeles and supported Roybal's bid for election to the Los Angeles City Council in 1949. He won and was subsequently reelected and served until 1962, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Roybal was the first Hispanic from California to serve in Congress since the late 1800s. In his first term in Congress, Roybal served on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and the Post Office Committee. During his second term, he was assigned to the Foreign Affairs Committee; two years later, in addition to his previous committee assignments, he served on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Meanwhile, he continued to work on behalf of Spanish-speaking people. In 1967, Roybal authored the first bilingual education bill to provide local school districts assistance with special bilingual-teaching programs. In 1968, with the goal of improving educational, housing, and employment opportunities for Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens, he worked to establish a Cabinet Committee on Opportunities for Spanish-speaking people. In 1971, he relinquished his previous committee assignments for a seat on the Appropriations Committee, on which he served until his retirement. In 1992, Roybal chose not to run for reelection. That year his daughter, Lucille Roybal-Allard, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she represents part of his old district.
Throughout his career, he received numerous honors and awards, including two honorary Doctor of Law degrees from Pacific States University and from Claremont Graduate School. In 1973, Yale University honored him with a visiting Chubb Fellowship. In 1976, the County of Los Angeles opened the Edward R. Roybal Clinic in East Los Angeles. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dedicated its main campus to Roybal and presented him with the Champion of Prevention Award. After serving his country in Congress, Roybal spent the rest of his life in California. He passed away on October 24, 2005, at 89 years old.