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Will Robinson

Struggles Of A Black Athlete

Robinson was born in the small town of Wadesboro, North Carolina, on June 3, 1911. Neither of his very young parents had reached their 15th birthday when he was born, and both had died before they turned 30. He was raised by his grandparents, who moved to Pennsylvania and then to Steubenville, Ohio, where Robinson attended junior high and high school. At the age of 12 he began to caddie at the Riverview Country Club, where professional golfer Bob Hillis taught him the game of golf. He learned to swim in the Ohio River that flows alongside Steubenville.

A versatile athlete, Robinson earned 14 letters in five sports—football, basketball, baseball, track, and golf—at Steubenville High School. Two days before the start of the 1930 football season, Robinson was moved to quarterback, becoming the first black to ever play the position at the school. The team went undefeated, never allowing an opponent to score the entire season. Robinson was also captain of the golf team, and despite not being allowed to play on the same course as the white players, he finished second in the state golf tournament. Robinson recalled to the Detroit News, "We went to the state tournament in Columbus, and they wouldn't let me play with the others. I started alone at seven in the morning. I couldn't stay in the dormitory at Ohio State. I couldn't eat at the banquet they had that night. They gave me a sandwich. I finished second."

Robinson can tell many other stories of the struggles he encountered because of his race. "I remember when I went to a school counselor [in high school] and told her I thought I should take up typing, and she said: 'Typing? Why, you're going to be a janitor,'" he once told the Detroit News. Despite the many barriers in his way, Robinson's motivation was unwavering. After graduating from high school he moved to West Virginia to coach at a segregated black school, but it was during the Great Depression, and he received no salary. The school gave him a nickel for transportation to the school, which he put in his pocket and walked. After two years without pay Robinson requested a salary but was told that without a college degree, he was not qualified. As a result, Robinson enrolled in West Virginia State College. During his college career, Robinson earned 15 letters in four sports—football, baseball, basketball and gymnastics—and captained the football, baseball, and gymnastics teams.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyWill Robinson Biography - Struggles Of A Black Athlete, The Road To Detroit, First Black To Coach Division I