president in the early 1950s of the Women's Political Council (WPC)
of Montgomery, Alabama, Jo Ann Robinson was one of several crucial
initiators of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56. Robinson was
an influential and leading figure both during the two years of Black
civic activism leading up to the boycott and as a major player in
the significant events that transformed the arrest of Rosa Parks
into a communitywide protest movement.
Ann Gibson was born near Culloden, Georgia, on April 17, 1912, the
youngest of twelve children. Educated in the segregated public schools
of Macon and then at Fort Valley State College, she became a public
school teacher in Macon, where she was briefly married to Wilbur
Robinson. After their one child died in infancy, Robinson left Macon
after five years of teaching and went to Atlanta, where she earned
an M.A. in English at Atlanta University. In the fall of 1949, after
teaching one year at Mary Allen College in Crockett, Texas, Robinson
accepted a position at Alabama State College. She was a professor
of English at Alabama State throughout the boycott.
Montgomery she joined both the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and
the WPC, which had been founded three years earlier by another Alabama
State English professor, Mary Fair Burks. At Christmastime in 1949,
Robinson endured a deeply humiliating experience at the hands of
an abusive and racist Montgomery City Lines bus driver, and she
resolved then and there that the WPC would target racial seating
practices on Montgomery buses. Many other Black citizens had had
similar experiences, and for the next several years the WPC repeatedly
asked city authorities to improve racial seating practices and address
the conduct of abusive bus drivers. In May 1954, more than eighteen
months before the arrest of Rosa
Parks but just several days after news of the U.S. Supreme Court's
Brown v. Board of Education decision began to sweep the country,
Robinson wrote to Montgomery's mayor as WPC president, gently threatening
a Black boycott of city buses if abuses were not curtailed.
Parks' arrest in December 1955, Robinson played a central role
in beginning the protest by immediately producing the leaflets that
spread word of the hoped-for boycott among the Black citizens of
copy of leaflet originally distributed by the Women's Political
She became one of the most active board members of the Montgomery
Improvement Association, the new Black community group created to
lead the boycott, but she remained out of the limelight in order
to protect her teaching position at Alabama State as well as those
of her colleagues. In 1960, Robinson left Alabama State (and Montgomery),
as did other activist faculty members.
teaching one year at Grambling College in Grambling, Louisiana,
Robinson moved to Los Angeles, where she taught English in the public
schools until her retirement in 1976 and where she was active in
a number of women's community groups. Robinson's health suffered
a serious decline just as her memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott
and the Women Who Started It, was published in 1987. She was honored
by a 1989 publication prize given by the Southern Association for
Women Historians, but was unable to accept the award in person.
Mary Fair. "Trailblazers: Women in the Montgomery Bus Boycott."
In Women in the Civil Rights Movement, ed. Vicki L. Crawford et
al. (1990); Garrow, David J., ed. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and
the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (1987),
and The Walking City (1989).
Women in America. An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Darlene Clark