E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.
But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.
Jo Ann Robinson was an eduactivist who wasn’t afraid to engage in civic action.
Born in Georgia on April 17, 1912, Robinson graduated valedictorian of her class, enrolled at Fort Valley State (HBCU), and earned her bachelor’s degree, becoming the first person in her family who attended college. Robinson began her career in K-12 education. She was a teacher for Macon Public Schools while obtaining her master’s degree and later taught at Alabama State College in Montgomery, Alabama.
Once in Montgomery, Robinson, the eduactivist, got to work, organizing, activating, and empowering Black people.
Robinson became an active member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; then pastored by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, Robinson concentrated her efforts with the Women’s Political Council (WPC), a local civic organization for African American professional women that was dedicated to fostering women’s involvement in civic affairs, increasing voter registration in the city’s Black community, and aiding women who were victims of rape and assault.
But when Robinson was verbally abused on a bus for sitting in an empty “whites only” section, tackling Jim Crow in busing was her primary aim and put at the top of her agenda when elected president of the WPC in 1950.
While WPC, under Robinson’s lead, worked to desegregate Montgomery’s buses, the Brown decision in 1954 provided a substantive foundation for challenging Jim Crow throughout the South. Robinson seized on Rosa Parks’ December 1955 act of defiance in the face of white supremacy to make good on her previous threat to the mayor of Montgomery; Robinson and her associates would initiate a city-wide one-day boycott of the buses.
The boycott was such as success, the Black residents of Montgomery were activated to challenge the city further. They established the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), electing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. president to organize and oversee a larger effort to boycott busses in Montgomery. Robinson served on the executive board.
Robinson chose not to formally work for the MIA for fear of losing her teaching position with Alabama State College. However, she put the education she received and the lessons she provided to students to good use behind the scenes. Robinson wrote and edited the MIA weekly newsletter. She also volunteered to carpool Black residents to work. Dr. King said of Robinson that, “she, perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.”
Robinson’s love for her people and freedom fightin’ ways caught the attention of the local racists. A police officer threw a brick through her window and another poured acid on her car, but she was not deterred from doing the work.
The boycott continued until 1956 when the Montgomery Bus Company relented. The work of Robinson, the MIA and WPC inspired future protests. While Robinson continued to support protest efforts, she returned to her roots teaching in the Los Angeles public school district.
Robinson is a true example of an educator who knew the power of her genius and utilized it for the betterment of Black people. An interview of Robinson can be viewed here.
Jo Ann Robinson; a member of our Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Jo Ann Robinson, visit the following site.
An original version of this piece appeared on Philly’s 7th Ward.