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Memorable Moments

Dr. Marvin E. Robinson’s Celebration of Life

By Norma Adams-Wade

One veteran colleague trudged laboriously to the speaker’s stand assisted by a walker and a relative who gripped his arm to steady him. That long walk from the audience, to the front of the room, and over to a microphone could have symbolized the long triumphant life journey of the man on the walker and the man he came to honor during a celebration of his friend’s life.

Dr. Marvin Robinso
Dr. Marvin Robinson Credit: The Dallas Morning News

Trini Garza was the 90-year-old retired federal government appointee, civic leader, businessman, and education advocate on the walker. Garza came to honor the late Marvin E. Robinson, a civil rights trailblazer, Dallas entrepreneur, education and business leader, attorney, husband, father and grandfather who died November 27, 2021 at age 86. The Celebration of life was held Feb. 12, 2022 at Concord Church, 6808 Pastor Bailey Dr. in Dallas’ Oak Cliff community.

Garza, a Latino, and Robinson, African-American, partnered on various bi-racial equity projects during the 1970s in Dallas.

“Marvin and I worked together on many causes for justice,” said Garza, who co-founded Dallas’ first Mexican-American leadership Conference. “It is my pleasure to be here.”

Robinson’s portrait was displayed up front – likely prompting others’ diverse memories of the stellar life he lived. An image of a smiling Robinson, with his trademark stare and a boutonnière on his lapel, also graced the cover of the printed commemorative program that detailed his many successes. That keepsake listed names and titles of about a dozen speakers from various professional, civic and educational arenas who came to pay homage. The dozen speakers recalled how Robinson impacted their life and the lives of hundreds, yea thousands, of others in the organizations, businesses, and schools that they represented.

Robinson was a fearless student civil rights activist at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the late-1950s and early ‘60s. He was a founding member of the historic Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), field secretary of the Congress of Racial equality (CORE), and was jailed and beaten several times during sit-ins and demonstrations, including the Freedom Riders bus crusades.

The activism of this high-achieving student government president and All-American track-and-field athlete continued even after the Louisiana governor ordered that he be kicked out of Southern– 28 days before he was to graduate – and further ordered to leave the state of Louisiana. Robinson ultimately earned a law degree from Howard University in Washington D. C. and went on to leave big footprints in various business, education and civic arenas.

Marvin Robinson
Marvin Robinson (2nd from left) with other Dallas Black leaders at the African American Museum in 1993. Cedit: the African American Museum

Resolutions involved one from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. Following are comments from some of the speakers:

a. Dallas businessman and civic leader Billy Allen was one of the major organizers of the life celebration for Robinson, his longtime friend. Allen said: “If you know him, you will be encouraged to continue the battle for freedom he fought.”

b. Business woman and former Texas State Rep. Helen Giddings: “Marvin …did what he did so that others could have a better life.”

c. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price commented on a song sung earlier in the program that referenced to Psalms 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Price several times cor- related that, “Marvin was a good man,” each time explaining why.

d.Dallas Black Dance Theatre executive director Zenetta Drew praised the Theatre’s former board president for his skills and financial guidance: “Without the leadership of Dr. Robinson, we…would not have survived. He understood how to make things happen.”

e. Rev. Peter Johnson, another local and national civil rights icon, recalled following Robinson’s activities since Rev. Johnson was 14 and Robinson was about a decade older. Rev. Johnson learned of Robinson while Robinson attended college in Baton Rouge, about a 30-minute drive from a small Louisiana town where Johnson grew up, son of the local NAACP president. Johnson relayed the story of Robinson being harshly beaten and the bus burned during a Freedom Ride in Alabama. “I struggled with this challenge of how to talk about this hero,” Rev. Johnson told the audience. Others who gave tributes included: LaQuitta Thomas, Southern University National Alumni Chair; Mary Daniels, former registrar at the innovative Business and Management Magnet High School where Robinson was the first director and only African-American to lead a facility of that type; Mark Cook, a former high-achieving student at the magnet school that Robinson led; Bill Collins, a Xerox Corp. associate who worked there when Robinson lead a national department and assisted with community affairs; Dr. Ben Clark, Robinson’s personal physician and close friend; and Joe Nash, a Southern University classmate and friend who stood at the podium while his daughter, Sharon Nash Alexander, spoke for him.

f. Rev. Aaron Moore, a Concord Church ministry leader, gave the eulogy, calling Robinson “a servant leader.” The audience complied when the minister requested a standing ovation for Robinson’s stunning life. Rev. Moore paraphrased a Biblical scripture: “Whoever shall be great among you shall be your servant,” he said.

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