Born in New York City, Vincent Lushington "Roi" Ottley was the second of three children of Jerome Peter and Beatrice Brisbane Ottley immigrated to New York from the island of Grenada. Young Ottley was educated at St. Bonaventure College (1926-1928), University of Michigan (1929), and St. John's Law School (Brooklyn, New York).
From 1931 to 1937, Ottley worked for Amsterdam News as reporter, columnist, and editor. He also joined New York City Writers' Project as editor in 1937. Published New World A-Coming: Inside Black America in 1943, incorporating Writers' Project reports; it became a bestseller and was adapted into a series of radio programs. Worked as a war correspondent for PM, Pittsburgh Courier, and Liberty; publicity director of national CIO War Relief Committee in 1943. He later became a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and broadcasted reports for both the Columbia Broadcasting System and the British Broadcasting System. In 1943, he served as publicity director for the National CIO War Relief Committee.
Ottley reported on such events as the Normandy Invasion, the hanging of Mussolini, and the Arab–French conflict in Syria. He interviewed important Allied political leaders and such personalities as Pope Plus XI, Governor Talmadge of Georgia, and Samuel Green, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. At the Chicago Tribune, he wrote series on the migration of African Americans from the agricultural South to the industrial North and its impact, the voting trends among African Americans, and the war. Topics in the latter series included the plot to remove all African American soldiers from occupied Germany, the desire of the African American to fully participate in the war, the absence of race problems when African Americans were allowed full participation, and the stellar performance of the African American soldier.
Additionally, he wrote articles on African American achievers in Chicago, such as Dr. Philip C. Williams, the first African American to be admitted to the Chicago Gynecological Society. Other books include Black Odyssey: The Story of the Negro in America (1948), No Green Pastures (1951), and The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott (1955).
Roi Ottley died on October 2, 1960. His works White Marble Lady (1965), a novel, and The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History, 1626-1940 (1967, with William J. Weatherby) were published after his death.