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America W. Robinson (January 1855 – 23 April 1912) was an African-American educator. Robinson was in the first graduating class of Fisk University and sang as a contralto with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. She was the first woman to graduate from Fisk University.[1]

Life and timesEdit

Robinson was born into slavery in January 1855 near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where both her parents were slaves. Her father was a carpenter. When the Civil War started, his master opened a ammunition factory that produced guns for the Army of the South. He worked in the factory as a carpenter, making stocks for muskets.[2]

The Battle of Stones River, 31 December 1862 – 2 January 1863 took place at Murfreesboro. Robinson witnessed treatment of soldiers from both Union and Confederate armies in a makeshift hospital established in her family’s house. Her father took the chance to hide their family in a Union Army wagon, and they all escaped to the city of Nashville, finding freedom with the Union troops that occupied the city.[3][4][5]

In 1912 when Robinson died, her address was listed as 502 West Pearl Street in Jackson, Mississippi.[6]

Education and trainingEdit

In 1866, Robinson enrolled on opening day in the new Fisk Colored School at Nashville, founded by the American Missionary Association. Her teaching career began at the age of thirteen. She earned money for tuition and living expenses by teaching during the summer breaks each year.[3][4][5]

In 1870, the US Census recorded the Robinson family lived in Davidson County, Tennessee. Her father Patrick Robinson, age 40, was noted as born in Virginia, and with the occupation of carpenter. He was classified as mulatto or mixed-race. Her mother was Elizabeth Robinson, age 34, born in Tennessee, also classified as mixed-race, which meant that both lines (and America and her siblings) had European-American ancestry as well as African. Her brother Martin Robinson, age 11, born in Tennessee, was also still living at home.[7]

In 1875, Fisk University graduated James Dallas Burrus, John Houston Burrus, America W. Robinson, and Virginia Eliza Walker as the first class of Fisk University. These classmates were the first blacks to earn a bachelor's degree from a liberal arts college located south of the Mason–Dixon line[8] In the late 1870s, Robinson and James Dallas Burrus became engaged, and Burrus borrowed money from her in order to attend graduate school at Dartmouth. But they ended their engagement by 1878.[9] In 1890, Robinson earned a master of arts degree from Fisk.[6]

Robinson married Edward Lucas, a schoolteacher, and the couple moved to Noxubee County, Mississippi. She opened a teacher’s school and dedicated her life to the education of black children.[10]

Fisk Jubilee SingersEdit

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, circa 1870s

Robinson became a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and was the only Jubilee singer to graduate from Fisk University.[11] Because they were touring, she did not attend her graduation ceremony.[12] For the third tour from January 1875 until July 1878, she was a lead contralto with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The group photograph of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, circa 1870s, shows the following members: Jennie Jackson – soprano, Maggie L. Porter – soprano, Edmund W. Watkins – bass, Mabel R. Lewis – contralto, Ella Sheppard – pianist, Maggie Carnes – soprano, Hinton D. Alexander – tenor, Frederick J. Loudin – bass, and America W. Robinson – contralto. During her time with the singers, Robinson asked for and won better pay and working conditions.[13]

Robinson continued to tour with the Fisk Jubilee Singers until 1878. After touring Europe for 3 years, she stayed in Europe and studied French and German before returning to the United States to make a life as a teacher. She earned a master's degree in 1890. She became principal of the Macon Public School in Macon, Mississippi.[14]


  1. ^ Hamilton, Green Polonius (1911). Beacon Lights of the Race. E. H. Clarke and Brother. p. 311.
  2. ^ Ward, Andrew (2001). Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780060934828.
  3. ^ a b Marsh, J.B.T. (1903). The Story of the Jubilee Singers Including Their Songs. Hodder and Stoughton.
  4. ^ a b "The Fisk Jubilee Singers". Our Nineteenth-Century American Museum. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  5. ^ a b Kwami, Paul T. (2015). Fisk Jubilee Singers. Our History. Who We Are. About Us. Fisk University. Nashville, Tennessee.
  6. ^ a b Editor. (1912). Class 1875. College Alumni. Catalog of the Officers, Students and Alumni of Fisk University. Volume 3. Issue 3.
  7. ^ United States Census, 1870. Database with images. FamilySearch. America Robinson in household of Patrick Robinson. Tennessee, United States. Citing p. 26, family 237. NARA microfilm publication M593. Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. FHL microfilm 553,020.
  8. ^ deGregory, Crystal A. (May 1999). Raising a Nonviolent Army: Four Nashville Black Colleges and the Century-Long Struggle for Civil Rights, 1830s–1930s. Dissertation, Doctor of Philosophy in History. Vanderbilt University. Nashville, Tennessee.
  9. ^ Richardson, Joe M. "A negro success story: James Dallas Burrus." The Journal of Negro History 50, no. 4 (1965): 274-282.
  10. ^ Editor. (June 1987). Outstanding Blacks. Noxubee County Mississippi Quarterly Bulletin. 42(June 1987): 2-3.
  11. ^ Moon, Fletcher F. (2016). "So "Fisk"ticated Ladies and Gentlemen: Highlights from 150 Years of Fisk University's Musical Tradition, Impact and Influence". Library Faculty and Staff Publications and Presentations. 15. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  12. ^ "The First commencement Exercises of the Institution". Nashville Union and American. 28 May 1875. Retrieved 27 September 2016 – via
  13. ^ Ward, Andrew. "Robinson, America W. (ca 1855-post 1920)". Black Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  14. ^ Collins, L.M. (1989). One Hundred Years of Fisk University, 1875-1935. Hemphill’s Creative Printing, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee.