Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was an unsung activist
Jo Ann Robinson
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was born on this date in 1912. She was an African American civil rights activist and educator.
From near Culloden, Georgia, she was the youngest of twelve children. Educated in the segregated public schools of Macon and then at Fort Valley State College, Gibson became a public school teacher in Macon, where she was briefly married to Wilbur Robinson. Their one child died in infancy. She left Macon after five years of teaching and went to Atlanta, where she earned an M.A. in English at Atlanta University. In the fall of 1949, after teaching one year at Mary Allen College in Crockett, Texas, Robinson accepted a position at Alabama State College.
She was a professor of English at Alabama State throughout the bus boycott. In Montgomery she joined both the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and the Woman’s Political Council, (WPC) which had been founded three years earlier by another Alabama State English professor, Mary Fair Burks. Near the end of 1949, Robinson (while boarding a public bus) was humiliated by an abusive and racist Montgomery City Lines bus driver, and she set out to use the WPC to target racial seating practices on Montgomery buses.
In May 1954, more than eighteen months before the arrest of Rosa Parks but just several days after news of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision began to sweep the country, Robinson wrote to Montgomery's mayor as WPC president, gently threatening a Black boycott of city buses if abuses were not curtailed. Following Rosa Park’s arrest in December 1955, Robinson played a central role in the start of the protest by producing the leaflets that spread word of the boycott among the Black citizens of Montgomery. S
he became one of the most active board members of the Montgomery Improvement Association, but she remained out of the limelight in order to protect her teaching position at Alabama State as well as those of her colleagues. In 1960, Robinson left Alabama State (and Montgomery), as did other activist faculty members. After teaching one year at Grambling College Robinson moved to Los Angeles, where she taught English in the public schools until her retirement in 1976 and where she was active in a number of women's community groups. Robinson's health suffered a serious decline just as her memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, was published in 1987.
She was honored by a 1989 publication prize given by the Southern Association for Women Historians. Jo Ann Gibson Robinson died in 1992.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson
Today in American History