Jo Ann Gibson Robinson
Booking photograph of Robinson
|Born||April 17, 1912|
near Culloden, Georgia,
|Died||August 29, 1992 (aged 80)|
|Alma mater||Atlanta University|
|Known for||Montgomery bus boycott|
Born Jo Ann Gibson, near Culloden, Georgia on April 17, 1912, she was the youngest of twelve children. Her parents were Owen Boston and Dollie Webb Gibson who had owned a farm. Her father died when Jo Ann was only 6 years old. After her fathers death Jo Ann, her mother, and her eleven other siblings moved to Macon, Georgia. Jo Ann excelled in school and earned valedictorian her graduating year at her high school. She became the first person in her family to become college graduate and attended Fort Valley State College.
Jo Ann graduated from Fort Valley State College with her bachelor's degree in 1934. After College she became a public school teacher in Macon, where she was married to Wilbur Robinson for a short time. Five years later, she went to Atlanta, where she earned an M.A. in English at Atlanta University. She continued her education even after earning her Masters New York's Columbia University and continued to study English. Short After Jo Ann went to teach at Mary Allen College. After teaching in Texas she then accepted a position at Alabama State College in Montgomery.
:9 It was Montgomery, Alabama she joined the Women's Political Council, which Mary Fair Burks had founded three years earlier. The WPC was an organization dedicated to inspiring African Americans to rise above the level of mediocrity that they had been conditioned to accept, to fight juvenile delinquency, increase voter registration in the African American community and to improve their status as a group. The WPC was also in the development in women's involvement in civic affairs, worked towards encouraging African Americans to vote, and helping women who were victims of rape.
In 1949, Robinson was verbally attacked by a bus driver for sitting in the front "Whites only" section of the bus. The whites only section was empty. Of fear of the incident escalating and that the driver would go from verbal abuse to physical Jo Ann left the bus. Her response to the incident was to attempt to start a protest boycott against bus segregation in Alabama. However, when she approached her fellow members of the Women's Political Council with her story and proposal, she was told that it was "a fact of life in Montgomery." In late 1950, she succeeded Burks as president of the WPC and helped focus the group's efforts on bus abuses. To further her efforts Jo Ann met with the major of Montgomery at the time William A. Gayle. Jo Ann even got to meet with city halls council, but like usual they were not interested in what she had to say. When city halls leaders were no help Jo Ann took matters into her own hands and organized a boycott once again. Robinson was an outspoken critic of the treatment of African-Americans on public transportation. She was also active in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
The Women's Political Council had made complaints about the bus seating to the Montgomery City Commission and about abusive drivers, and achieved some concessions, including an undertaking that drivers would be courteous and having buses stopping at every corner in black neighborhoods, as they did in white areas.:12
After Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), Robinson had informed the mayor of the city that a boycott would come, and then after Rosa Parks' arrest, they seized the moment to plan the Montgomery bus boycott.
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move from her seat in the black area of the bus she was traveling on to make way for a white passenger who was standing.:27 Mrs. Parks, a civil rights organizer, had intended to instigate a reaction from white citizens and authorities. That night, with Mrs. Parks' permission, Mrs. Robinson stayed up mimeographing 52,500 handbills calling for a boycott of the Montgomery bus system with the help of the chairman of the Alabama State College business department, John Cannon, and two students.:34 The boycott was supported and fought by many in a 1976 interview, Robinson pointed out, "That boycott was not supported by a few people; it was supported by 52,000 people". The boycott was initially planned to be for just the following Monday. She passed out the leaflets at a Friday afternoon meeting of AME Zionist clergy, among other places, and Reverend L. Roy Bennett requested other ministers attend a meeting that Friday night and to urge their congregations to take part in the boycott. Robinson, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, two of her senior students and other Women's Council members then passed out the handbills to high school students leaving school that afternoon.:34
After the success of the one-day boycott, black citizens decided to continue the boycott and established the Montgomery Improvement Association to focus their efforts. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was elected president. Jo Ann Robinson never became a member of this group. She had declined an official position to the Montgomery Improvement Association because of her teaching position at Alabama State. She served on its executive board and edited their newsletter at Kings request. Behind the scenes Robinson also helped in carpooling Arican American to work. She was so involved King took notice in his memoir of the boycott, Stride Towards Freedom, Dr. King said of Robinson, "Apparently indefatigable, she , perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of protest". In order to protect her position at Alabama State College and to protect her colleagues, Robinson purposely stayed out of the limelight even though she worked diligently with the MIA. Robinson and other WPC members also helped sustain the boycott by providing transportation for boycotters.
Robinson was the target of several acts of intimidation. Robinson was arrested many times also. In February 1956, a local police officer threw a stone through the window of her house. Then two weeks later, another police officer poured acid on her car. The violence had gotten so life-threateningly bad that the governor of Alabama ordered the state police to guard the houses of the boycott leaders. The boycott lasted over a year because the bus company would not give in to the demands of the protesters. December 20 of 1956 the boycotts finally ended, the federal district court deemed segregating seating was unconstitutional. However, Jo Ann fought hard and took great pride in the eventual success of the boycott. In her memoir, Robinson wrote, "An oppressed but brave people, whose pride and dignity rose to the occasion, concorded fear, and faced whatever perils had to be confronted. The boycott was the most beautiful memory that all of us who participated will carry to our final resting place." The Montgomery bus boycott broke through and gave real hope as it helped to inspire other protests because of its success, and of course lead many protests with the importance of nonviolence that MLK preached. After a student sit-in in early 1960, Robinson and other teachers who had supported the students resigned their positions at Alabama State College. Robinson left Alabama State College and moved out of Montgomery that year. She taught at Grambling College in Louisiana for one year then moved to Los Angeles and taught English in the public school system. In Los Angeles, she continued to be active in local women's organizations. She taught in the LA schools until she retired from teaching in 1976. Jo Ann Robinson was also a part of the bus boycott, and was strongly against discrimination. Jo Ann Robinson inspired many young women to join the protest and to fight. Jo Ann said, "Women's leadership was no less important to the development of the Montgomery Bus Boycott than was the male and minister-dominated leadership."
Robinson's memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, edited by David J. Garrow, was published in 1987 by the University of Tennessee Press.