Jo Ann Robinson
April 17, 1912 – August 29, 1992
On April 17, 1912, in Culloden, Georgia, farmers Dollie Webb and Owen Boston Gibson welcomed their 12th child Jo Ann Gibson into the world. Unfortunately, Owen passed away six years later after which the family sold the farm and moved to Macon, Georgia. Despite Macon’s segregated schools, Gibson received a good education and was valedictorian of her high school class. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science at Fort Valley State College becoming the first person in her family to attend college.
Following graduation, Gibson worked as a school teacher in Macon and during this time she married and divorced Wilbur Robinson. After several years of teaching in Macon, Robinson relocated to Atlanta and attended Atlanta University where she earned a Master of Arts in English. She later moved to New York City for a year while she worked on a doctorate in English at Columbia University. Returning to the South in 1949, Robinson joined Alabama State College’s (ASC) English Department as a teacher.
While living in Montgomery, Robinson joined the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church’s congregation and became a member of the Women’s Political Council (WPC). The WPC had been founded by another ASC professor, Mary Fair Burks, to motivate Black women to become more politically active. The organization primarily consisted of middle-income Black women and focused on voter registration and other initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life for Black citizens.
Robinson did not immediately join the WPC upon arriving in Montgomery. At the end of her first fall semester, Robinson got on a city bus that was mostly empty and sat in the White section. The White bus driver pulled over the bus and began to yell at Robinson demanding that she leave the section. Confused and humiliated, Robinson got off the bus in tears. But, when Robinson discussed her experience with other Black women, she was shocked to find that such events occurred frequently. With her eyes having been opened to the injustices of segregation, Robinson joined the WPC and eventually became President.
Over the next few years, Robinson made fighting against bus segregation a priority for the WPC. The organization filed multiple complaints with the city. And in May 1954, Robinson wrote a letter to the mayor threatening a boycott following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Despite five years of concentrated advocating for change, little progress had been made with regards to driver conduct and segregated bus seating.
When Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, Robinson and other activists saw an opportunity for progress. That very night Robinson swung into action and with the assistance of a friend and two students made approximately 55,000 copies of flyers advising Black residents to stay off the city buses that coming Monday. Having threatened a bus boycott for years, Robinson had the foresight to launch what would come to be known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Following the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the MIA took over top-level management of the bus boycott. Robinson joined the executive board, wrote and edited a weekly newsletter, and contributed to the alternative carpool program. Despite playing a vital role in the launch and management of the boycott, Robinson is less well-known than other participants because she avoided the limelight to keep her job. During the boycott, Robinson was arrested and intimidated with violence and her home eventually had to be guarded by state police.
After the end of the boycott, Robinson and other professors were investigated and watched closely by state officials. These experiences led to Robinson resigning from ASC and moving on to teach at Grambling in Louisiana before settling permanently in Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, Robinson continued to teach in public schools until she retired in 1976. Eleven years later, Robinson released a memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It. On August 29, 1992, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson passed away at the age of 90.
- 2019. Encyclopedia.com. Encyclopedia.com. August 24, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/robinson-jo-ann-gibson.
- “Jo Ann Gibson Robinson Was an Unsung Activist.” n.d. African American Registry. Accessed October 1, 2019. https://aaregistry.org/story/jo-ann-gibson-robinson-was-an-unsung-activist/.
- “Jo Ann Robinson.” 2019. Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. April 15, 2019. https://www.biography.com/activist/jo-ann-robinson.
- “Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson.” 2019. Encyclopedia.com. Encyclopedia.com. August 24, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/robinson-jo-ann-1911-1992.
- Woodham, Rebecca. 2011. “Jo Ann Robinson.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. August 9, 2011. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3124.
- The Rosa Parks Museum & Montgomery Civil Rights Sites
- Gloria Richardson
- Daisy Bates
- Septima Poinsette Clark
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