Summary of Life of Walter Caldwell Robinson
by Malcolm J. Walker

"This study is important because, to this date, nothing in the form of a biography or any other work has been written about this great citizen of Tennessee."

One man can make a huge difference in a community. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Walter Caldwell Robinson was such a man. He was born in 1893 to Alabama sharecroppers, and the family moved when he was nine. Robinson excelled in school and helped his mother launder “for the white families.” He opened Walter’s Pressing Shop at age sixteen, became a community leader by twenty, and skyrocketed to political success, always campaigning for candidates who would help end the injustices and suffering of “the colored man.”

Robinson wielded remarkable influence on the political machine. He was chairman of the Fourth Ward (one of the most powerful Republican precincts in the South), chaired the Colored Voters League of Greater Chattanooga, traveled nationally for the National Republican Executive Committee, and was an alternate delegate for the Republican National Convention for more than thirty years. When the white newspapers lessened his influence, he simply started his own weekly, the Chattanooga Times, in 1933 and ran it with his wife and daughter until he died in 1968.

Walker, a career educator with the Chattanooga Public Schools, has painstakingly dug through newspaper and morgue data, taped interviews with relatives and associates, and reproduced pages from the Chattanooga Times to build a keen sense of time, place, and circumstances for blacks in the South before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One story from around 1936 stands out. The Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate Robinson’s family. Robinson, the grandson of a slave, simply called the Klan’s leader and told him to stop, and the leader did. Such was Robinson’s influence and power. Students of all ages should study Walker’s highly readable portrayal of a black leader who was extraordinarily connected to his political and social milieu.

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