By Lois G. Russell
The Alabama State University Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to rename one of the campus’s historic residence halls in honor of university icon and Civil Rights activist Jo Ann Robinson, a key figure in launching and executing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Robinson was a former Alabama State College professor and Civil Rights activist who leveraged her positions, as well as her political and personal connections, to transform American race relations when she helped launch the non-violent direct action phase of the Civil Rights movement.
“I am extremely gratified that the Board of Trustees saw fit to rename this historic facility in honor of one of the university’s most iconic figures,” said ASU President, Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr. “Jo Ann Robinson was one of the catalysts behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott and is representative of the many faculty and staff members who were instrumental in bringing about one of the most impactful periods in the history of Civil Rights in the United States.”
Robinson was an executive board member of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), and she sat on the MIA Negotiation Team with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as they attempted to end the boycott through discussions with the city of Montgomery and the National City Bus Lines.
Ultimately, Robinson helped to initiate a boycott that solidified the Black community, catapulted the Rev. King, Jr. onto the national stage, and ushered in a new and dramatic phase in African-American’s long struggle for civil rights.
As a popular professor at ASU, Robinson was also deeply involved in Montgomery’s African-American community. She assumed the presidency of the Women’s Political Council (WPC) from ASU Professor Mary Fair Burks in 1950. Under her leadership, the organization continued to host mock elections for Montgomery’s African-American high school students in a program held at ASU called Youth City.
On several different occasions, Robinson was accompanied by other WPC members as they appeared before the Montgomery City Commission to complain about the lack of recreational outlets for Black children and the need for Black police officers. They also drew attention to the poor treatment endured by Black bus riders using municipal transportation. Although the women saw some movement in response to their requests, they resolved to place more pressure on the city.
The Board’s action to change the name of the residence hall follows its decision almost exactly one year ago to rename the building that for decades had carried the name of a former Ku Klux Klan leader.
“I want to thank Dr. Janice Franklin, Dr. Howard Robinson and the committee members who researched the history of all of the names on buildings and streets on this campus,” Ross said. “Our goal was to identify any names with segregationist ties and find opportunities to honor those who fought so valiantly for civil and human rights. Bibb Graves Hall was one of the buildings that I felt should be renamed as soon as possible.”
The university plans to have a dedication ceremony for Jo Ann Robinson Hall at a later date.