Good morning Obots:
Max Robinson is today’s African American Pioneer in Broadcast News.
Max Robinson was born in Richmond, VA on May 1, 1939. Robinson attended Oberlin College and briefly served in the United States Air Force where he was assigned to the Russian Language School at Indiana University before receiving a medical discharge.
In 1959, Max Robinson beat out four white applicants for a position at a local TV station in Portsmouth, VA where he read the news on the air. There was just one catch: his face had to be hidden behind a slide bearing the station’s logo. One night, Robinson ordered the slide removed so his relatives could see him. He was fired the next day.
He later went to WRC-TV in Washington, DC, and stayed for three years, winning six journalism awards for coverage of civil-rights events such as the riots that followed the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was during this time that Robinson won two regional Emmys for a documentary he did on black life in Anacostia titled “The Other Washington.”
In 1969, Robinson joined the Eyewitness News team at WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV) in Washington, D.C. He was teamed with anchor Gordon Peterson, becoming the first African-American anchor on a local television news program. He was so well-liked by viewers that when Hanafi Muslims took hostages at the B’nai B’rith building in Washington they would speak only with Robinson.
In 1978, when Roone Arledge was looking to revamp ABC News’ nightly news broadcast into World News Tonight, he remembered Max Robinson from a 60 Minutes interview, and hired him to be a part of his new three-anchor format: Frank Reynolds in Washington, Peter Jennings in London, and Robinson in Chicago. Max Robinson became the first African American man to anchor a nightly network news broadcast. The three-man co-anchor team was a ratings success, and launched spoofs regarding how the three would toss stories to each other during the telecast by saying the other’s name: “Frank”…”Max”….”Peter,” etc.
Robinson’s ABC tenure was marked by conflicts between himself and the management of ABC News over viewpoints and the portrayal of Black America in the news. ABC’s management became frustrated with him and moved him to the post of weekend anchor. In 1983, he left ABC for WMAQ-TV in Chicago where he remained for two years.
Max Robinson died of complications of AIDS (which he had kept secret) on December 20, 1988, in Washington D.C. Leaders in the black community, along with television news stars, including Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, joined civil rights activist Jesse Jackson at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to a man that had impacted both an industry and a culture.
Bernard Shaw, co-anchor at Cable News Network (CNN) and one of the few blacks that has enjoyed a network anchor position, summed up his feelings for Judith Michaelson of the Los Angeles Times:“His impact will go on for generations. He was Engine No.1.”
Max Robinson anchors this 1978 News brief