Remembering the late Dr. Edward W. Robinson Jr.

On Friday, Philadelphians will celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Edward W. Robinson, Jr., a truly great man who died of cancer on June 13.

Robinson, a longtime resident of Germantown, was 94.

A viewing for the distinguished author, historian, professor, filmmaker, curriculum specialist and business leader will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. at A.M.E. Union Church, 16th and Jefferson streets, with a funeral to follow. Internment will be at Merion Memorial Park in Bala Cynwyd.

Remembering a man who made a difference

Born April 24, 1918 and raised in North Philadelphia, he attended Central High School and received degrees from Virginia State College for Negroes (now University) in Petersburg, Virginia, and Temple University Law School.

During his long and illustrious career, which was highlighted in a resolution sponsored by Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (PDF), he held many posts.

He served in the Second World War in the U.S. Army and, among other appointments, was Pennsylvania’s executive deputy secretary, executive director of the city’s Minority Business Council and the first African American to be appointed a member of the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

In the 1950s, Mr. Robinson became co-owner of the Provident Home Industrial Mutual Life Insurance Co., a small firm which he developed into a multimillion-dollar business.

A prolific author and producer, Dr. Robinson co-authored the seminal book “Journey of the Songhai People,” published in 1970, and the guidebook, “The World of Africans and Afro-Americans.”

He also produced the best-selling historical album, “Black Rhapsody.” Produced in 1987, it includes his signature story, “The Eagle Who Thought He Was a Chicken.” He and his wife co-authored the book “‘Twas the Night Before Kwanzaa.”

At the time of his death, Dr. Robinson was working actively to produce a new movie titled “Whispers of the Medallion.”

A commitment to education

Dr. Robinson’s life’s work, particularly in the field of education, was significant nationally, locally and on a grassroots level. His mission, as stated on his website, was “to effect a positive change of attitude toward the ancestral value of people of African descent by the total world society through dramatically exposing the beauty, grandeur and sophistication of ancient Egypt and the Songhai Empire.”

To that end, he worked tirelessly to raise the consciousness of the black community, and to correct the misrepresentation of the black race in the eyes of the world.

Dr. Robinson was awarded a contract with the Philadelphia Public School District in 2004 to infuse African studies within the current curricula from kindergarten to eighth grade. Among those he mentored was his nephew, the late David P. Richardson.

While a Germantown High School student in 1967, an 18-year-old Richardson organized a city-wide walkout of African American students, including a march on the Philadelphia school board. The protestors were demanding more black teachers and administrators, and recognition of black student unions.

Richardson would later be elected to the state House of Representatives, serving from 1975 to 1995 in the 201st legislative district.

In 2010, Dr. Robinson joined local Germantown residents in a oral history project “Germantown Speaks,” including a forum remembering his nephew and the infamous Germantown Protest of 1967.

“Emancipating Cliveden”

Among Dr. Robinson’s last contributions was to offer his voice as one of the most significant characters, James Smith, in the film, “Emancipating Cliveden.”

James Smith was born enslaved, bought his freedom and continued to live and work at Cliveden in Germantown with Anne Sophia Penn Chew until his death in 1871.

The completion of the “Emancipating Cliveden” project will be celebrated with its Independence Day release at Cliveden.

“Over the past few years, Dr. Robinson contributed much of his time, talent and wisdom,” said David Young, executive director at Cliveden. “His experience and support helped teach Cliveden staff ways to avoid ‘shame and blame’ so that the stories of individuals would showcase empowerment and ‘active agency,’ rather than ‘property.'”

For all his accolades and accomplishments, he will be most dearly remembered for his courage, dedication and humanity.

Robinson leaves behind his wife Harriette, children, and his grand-, great-grand, and great, great-grandchildren. Affectionately called “Doc,” he also served as mentor, teacher, and friend to many.

“Our common cause was in trying to help uplift the African-American race. We produced training tapes, films to accomplish this,” said Bob Lott, co-producer and friend for more than two decades. “He was a special man, there was only one Ed Robinson. He was my teacher, my mentor, and my father figure.”

NewsWorks will cover tomorrow’s event to speak with those affected by Robinson’s contributions.

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