He passed away 34 years ago today.
Maxie Cleveland Robinson Jr, also known as Max Robinson, was born May 1, 1939 in Richmond Virginia, the African-American Registry reports. One of four children born to Maxie and Doris Robinson, Robinson had two sisters, Jewell and Jean, and one brother, Randall. He attended Oberlin College, Virginia Union, and Indiana University, beginning his television career shortly after college.
He landed his first journalism job in 1959 at WTOV-TV in Portsmouth, Virginia. Despite proving to be more qualified than a group of all-white applicants, Robinson was still subjected to the color barrier enforced by the station, Encyclopedia Britannica reports. Robinson was responsible for reading the news while intentionally being hidden behind a slide emblazoned with the station’s logo. One night, Robinson had the slide taken off, presenting the news the next day without the logo. He was immediately fired.
That same year, Robinson moved to Washington, D.C., breaking the racial barrier and becoming the first African-American anchor on a local news program that aired on the television station, WTOP-TV Channel 9. There, he worked as a correspondent and camera operator, eventually moving to a job at WRC-TV where he covered urban neighborhood issues and racial issues. His coverage of the 1968 race riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination earned him six journalism awards. He also covered the anti-war demonstrations and a national election. After a decade of consistent work, he made history in 1969 as the first Black anchor on a network television news program, rejoining WTOP-TV. During his time in D.C., he won two regional Emmys for a documentary he did on Anacostia, a predominantly Black neighborhood in D.C. that Robinson dubbed “The Other Washington.” He also worked alongside fellow anchor Gordon Peterson for the 6pm and 11pm news broadcasting.
Robinson stayed at WTOP until 1978 before moving to Chicago to become a co-anchor on ABC’s World News Tonight. The show was broadcast with Robinson until 1983 when co-anchor Frank Reynolds passed away. Robinson left ABC soon after and joined Chicago’s WMAQ-TV as a news anchor from 1984-1987. Throughout his career, Robinson spoke out about the rampant racism in the industry while also mentoring journalism students as a professor at Federal City College in Washington, D.C., and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He received numerous accolades for his work, including the Capital Press Club Journalist of the year award, an Ohio State Award, and the National Education Association (NEA) award. Robinson also served as co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.
The beloved journalist passed away on December 20, 1988 at the age of 49 due to complications from AIDS, the Los Angeles Times reports. While he never publicly acknowledged his battle with the disease, his dying wish was for his family to reveal his diagnoses so that his story could help others in the Black community be aware of the dangers of the disease as well as options for treatment and education.
Robinson left behind a massive legacy, paving the way for generations of journalists who walk in his footsteps and stand on his shoulders. We honor and salute the legacy of trailblazer Max Robinson. Because of him, we can!
Meet Max Robinson, the first Black news anchor. Photo Courtesy of Mark C. Robinson/Twitter