Continuing on with this week’s open thread theme, I turn my sights to the one of the main organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson.
Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (April 17, 1912 – August 29, 1992) was a civil rights activist and educator in Montgomery, Alabama. Born near Culloden, Georgia, she was the youngest of twelve children. She attended Fort Valley State College and then 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 then accepted a position at Alabama State College in Montgomery. It was there that she joined the Women’s Political Council, which Mary Fairburks had founded three years earlier. In 1949, Robinson was verbally attacked by a bus driver, which led to her involvement in activism. In late 1950, she succeeded Burks as president of the WPC and helped focus the group’s efforts on bus abuses.
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus from the whites section on the bus. 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 35,000 handbills calling for a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. 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 place and Reverend L. Roy Bennett told other ministers to themselves attend a meeting that Friday night and to urge their congregations to take part in the boycott. Reverend Ralph Abernathy then helped Robinson pass out the handbills to high school students leaving school that afternoon. He wanted to help her so that she would not be solely blamed.
After the success of the one-day boycott, black citizens decided to continue the boycott and established the Montgomery Improvement Association to focus on the boycott. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was elected president. Jo Ann Robinson became a member of this group. She served on its executive board and edited their newsletter. 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.
The boycott lasted over a year because the bus company would not give into any of their demands for rights.
Robinson left Alabama State College and moved out of Montgomery in 1960. She taught at Grambling College in Louisiana for one year and then moved to Los Angeles and taught English in the public school system. In LA, she continued to be active in local women’s organizations. She taught in the LA schools until she retired from teaching in 1976. Robinson’s name is often glossed over in history lessons despite her role in organizing the boycott. 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.