Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was born to farmers near Colloden, GA. Her high school’s valedictorian, she graduated from Fort Valley State College in 1947 and earned a master’s degree from Atlanta University. After teaching in Macon and Texas, she became a faculty member at Alabama State College in Montgomery, AL. She was an active member of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and Women’s Political Council (WPC), of which she became president.
Robinson led the WPC in advocating for a boycott of the buses in Montgomery after being verbally attacked by a white bus driver. After Rosa Parks’s arrest on December 1, 1955 , she and her students created and distributed more than 50,000 flyers appealing for blacks to boycott the buses the following Monday. The empty buses that day convinced the city’s African-American leaders to continue the boycott, and the rest is history. The leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to organize an extended boycott, appointing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as president. Robinson served on its executive board and edited its newsletter. The boycott lasted 381 days and set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and an end to segregation and legal discrimination.
Robinson would go on to become a faculty member at Grambling State University and a Los Angeles teacher.
Listen: NPR’s Michel Martin discusses Jo Ann Robinson’s role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott here.
Read: More about Jo Ann Robinson through Stanford University here.
Read: Letter from Women’s Political Council to mayor of Montgomery, AL threatening a boycott here.
Read: Excerpt from “The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It,” by Jo Ann Robinson here.
Watch: Jo Ann Robinson discuss the boycott and her place in history here.
Interact: Comment on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Facebook post recognizing Jo Ann Robinson here.