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Sat, 12.12.1914

Cleveland Robinson, Union Activist born

Cleveland Robinson

*Cleveland Robinson was born on this date in 1914. He was a Black labor organizer and civil rights activist.

Cleveland Lowellyn "Cleve" Robinson was born in Swabys Hope in Manchester, Jamaica. After serving as a local constable and an elementary school teacher, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1944. Robinson took a job in a Manhattan dry goods store and very soon became active in District 65. In 1947, he owned his shop; he became a steward and then a full-time organizer for the union.

He was elected vice-president in 1950 and later, in 1952, became secretary-treasurer. He held that position until he retired in 1992. When District 65 was affiliated with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union, Robinson held the international vice-president and executive board member of that union. After disagreements with the retail, wholesale, and department store workers union, District 65 pulled out and organized the National Council of Distributive Workers of America.

Robinson was elected president of the new body. In 1981, District 65 was with the United Auto Workers. At that time, the union had 33,000 members in 37 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. He was committed to the American Civil Rights movement. In 1957, he participated in the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. He was the chairman and one of the key organizers of the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In September 1972, he helped establish the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the successor organization to the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), and served as its first vice president.

Robinson suffered from glaucoma for many years and was legally blind in 1970. This disability did not impair his level of commitment and activity. He never lost touch with his Jamaican origins and often traveled to the island, keeping a keen interest in several Jamaican American political, cultural, and fraternal organizations. His first wife was Sue Eliza Robinson; they had two sons and a daughter. When she died in 1976, he married Doreen McPherson Robinson. Robinson died of kidney failure in New York City on August 23, 1995. His papers are at the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.


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