Alexandria Civil Rights leader Ira Robinson dies at 85

Ira Robinson campaigning in 1970 (image via McArthur Myers/City of Alexandria)

Alexandria Civil Rights leader Ira Robinson, the first Black man elected to the City Council after Reconstruction, died last Friday at his home in Temecula, California.

Robinson was 85 years old.

Robinson was elected to the City Council in 1970. Before the election, 19-year-old Robin Gibson was murdered at a 7-11, which sparked three days of rioting. Robinson was credited with settling the riots and, at one point, saving the life of an Alexandria policeman surrounded by an angry crowd.

Robinson served on the City Council for three years and was instrumental in working toward full compliance with desegregation laws.

During the many challenges in America at a time, Ira Robinson represented hope for a new America,” said McArthur Myers, who was the youth coordinator for Robinson’s campaign.

In a release, the City of Alexandria detailed some of Robinson’s history with the city:

During his three-year term on the Council, Robinson was instrumental in bringing about major changes in education, housing, and law enforcement, including a 1971 secondary school integration plan that brought the Alexandria public schools into full compliance with federal desegregation law.  Nearly three decades after that plan consolidated three previous high schools into T.C. Williams secondary school, the turmoil of that period – and the resulting football championship that reunited the community – remained such a potent story that it became the basis of the Disney movie, Remember the Titans.

Also marking that era in Alexandra politics were the titanic, but civil, debates between Robinson, a Democrat, and Wiley F. Mitchell, a Republican, whose priorities for the city, though often at odds, led to steady increases in minority hiring, the distribution of moderate and low-income housing city-wide, the development of the Metro area transit system, and eventual redevelopment of the Potomac Railroad Yard, Cameron Station, and the neighborhoods along the Route 1 corridor and Mount Vernon Avenue.

Before his election to council, Robinson focused much of his activism on changing the face of policing in the city and on relations between police officers and Alexandria’s African-American youth.  In 1968, he served on the Alexandria Crime Commission and, the following year, as adviser to a Michigan State University team, hired by the city manager to produce a “Study of Police Community Relations” in Alexandria. Robinson also served on the Alexandria Commission on Criminal Justice and the Metropolitan Council of Government’s Task Force on Drug Abuse.  He also chaired the city’s Urban League voter registration drive, served on the boards of the local branch of the NAACP and the Boys Club, and was a member of the Alexandria Economic Opportunities Commission and the Mayor’s ad hoc Committee on Health Care.  An avid sports fan, he advocated for young African American athletes who needed legal advice.