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Armstead L. Robinson papers

Identifier: MSS 12836

Scope and Contents

The Armstead L. Robinson papers(1848-2001; 43 cubic feet) consist of audiotapes; book reviews; census material; computer printouts; conference papers; correspondence; biographical information; instructional material; lectures and speeches; manuscripts and original writings by Robinson, his colleagues and students; maps; memorabilia; microfilm; organizational and professional files; photographs; printed items, and research and topical files. Most of the nineteenth century material is in the form of photocopies.

The scope of this collection is national. Professor Robinson’s papers are reflective of the life and career of a nationally active professional historian and educator. Topics of interest include: African-American history; African-American life in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee, 1840s-1880s; life as an African-American student at Yale University during the 1960s; the development of Black Studies during the 1960s; life as an African-American faculty member at the State University of New York (SUNY), the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Virginia during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s; slavery in the Confederacy; the nineteenth century American South, especially during the Civil War and Reconstruction; and the modern Civil Rights Movement. Several organizations of interest to Robinson include but are not limited to: Antioch College; Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History); the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY); the Booker T. Washington National Monument; Corporate/Community Schools of America; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center and Institute of the Black World; National Humanities Center (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina); Papers of Jefferson Davis; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California at Los Angeles; the University of Rochester; the University of Virginia; the Virginia State Library Board, and Yale University.

Robinson corresponded with numerous fellow scholars, historians and prominent persons: Herbert Aptheker (1915-2003), historian; Molefi Kete Asante (b. 1942), founder of Afrocentricity and proponent of Black Studies; Ira Berlin (b. 1941), American historian; John B. Boles (b. 1943), historian and managing editor, Journal of Southern History; F. N. Boney, historian; Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973), educator, librarian and Harlem Renaissance novelist; McGeorge Bundy (1919–1996), United States National Security Advisor and head of the Ford Foundation; Austin C. Clarke (b. 1934), Afro-Canadian novelist; John F. Cooke (president, The Disney Channel/Walt Disney Company); Emâilia Viotti da Costa, historian of Brazil; LaWanda F. Cox (1909-2005), historian; Lynda Lasswell Crist (Papers of Jefferson Davis); Merle Curti (1897-1997), American social and intellectual historian; Mary Seaton Dix (Papers of Jefferson Davis); Stanley L. Engerman (b. 1936), economic historian; Karen E. Fields, director, Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-Americans Studies, University of Rochester; Michael W. Fitzgerald (b. 1956), historian; Harold E. Ford [Harold Eugene Ford, Sr., b.1945], U. S. congressman from Tennessee; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (1941-2007), historian; John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), American historian; George M. Fredrickson (b. 1934), historian; Eugene D. Genovese (1930-2012), historian; Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. (b. 1950); A. Bartlett Giamatti (1938-1989), Yale president (and later commissioner of Major League Baseball); Herbert Gutman (1928-1985), historian; Stephen Hahn (b. 1950), Faulkner scholar; Vincent Harding (b. 1931), historian; Nathan Hare (b. 1933), sociologist, psychotherapist, and a founder of the Black Studies movement; Darlene Clark Hine (b. 1947), historian; Alton Hornsby (Journal of Negro History); C. Stuart McGehee, historian; Ron “Maulana” Karenga (b. 1941), a leader of the Black Studies movement and founder of Kwanzaa, a cultural celebration of African-American culture and community; Lauranett Lee (later curator of African American History, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia); James T. McIntosh (Papers of Jefferson Davis); Pauline Maier (b. 1938), professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; August Meier (1923-2003), historian; Nell Irvin Painter (b. 1942), historian; Lewis C. Perry (b. 1938), historian and editor of The Journal of American History; Edwin S. Redkey (b. 1931), American historian; Joseph Reidy (b. 1948); Dan Roberts, University of Richmond; Leslie S. Rowland, historian; William Scarborough, historian, University of Southern Mississippi; Daryl M. Scott (later a Howard University professor of history and vice president for programs, and member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History’s executive council); Robert Brent Toplin (b. 1940), American historian; Edmund S. Wehrle, University of Connecticut; C. Vann Woodward (1908-1999), American historian; Karen L. Wysocki, and, Whitney Moore Young Jr. (1921-1971), executive director of the National Urban League, Inc., and American civil rights leader.

As to be expected, there is correspondence with several University of Virginia colleagues: Edward L. Ayers (b. 1953), Corcoran Department of History; William A. Elwood (1932-2002), professor of English and associate dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Edwin E. Floyd, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Matthew Holden, Jr. (b. 1931), Henry L. and Grace M. Doherty Professor, Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs; Michael F. Holt, Corcoran Department of History; Ervin L. Jordan Jr. (b. 1954), Special Collections Department, Alderman Library; Robert O’Neil, president of the University of Virginia; Nathan Alexander Scott, Jr. (1925-2006), Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies; Jeanne Maddox Toungara, Corcoran Department of History, and, Theresa M. Towner, Department of English.

Prominent persons mentioned in the collection include: Howard K. Beale (1897-1959), a University of North Carolina historian; Reginald Butler, Corcoran Department of History, and Robinson’s successor as director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African studies; Lawrence Chisolm, historian, State University of New York at Buffalo; Robert R. Church [Robert Reed Church, Sr.] (1839-1912), business leader and the South's first African-American millionaire; Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), a founder of the Black Panther Party; Harold Cruse (1916-2005), historian and proponent of Black Studies; Philip D. Curtin (b. 1922), historian; Robert Dahl (b. 1915), Yale political scientist; St. Clair Drake (1911-1990), sociologist, anthropologist and educator; Alex Dupuy, historian of Haiti; Drew Gilpin Faust (b. 1947), American historian; Robert W. Fogel (b. 1926), American historian; Vivian V. Gordon (1934-1995), sociologist; Martin Kilson, Jr., political scientist, Harvard University; James Armistead Lafayette (1760-1832), African-American slave and spy; Alan Lomax (1915-2002), folklorist and musicologist; Gerald A. McWorter, political scientist, Spelman College, and a founder of the Black Studies movement; Sidney W. Mintz (b. 1922), anthropologist; Boniface I. Obichere (1933-1997), historian; Donald Ogilvie (Yale student); Dorothy B. Porter [Dorothy Porter Wesley]; Alvin Poussaint (b. 1934), psychiatrist; Paul L. Puryear (1930-2010), dean of the Office of Afro-American Affairs, University of Virginia; John T. Schlotterbeck (b. 1948), historian; Henry Taylor, Jr. (b. 1928), educator and psychoanalyst; William Shockley (1910-1989), American physicist and eugenicist; F. (Frederick) Palmer Weber (1914-1986), labor and civil rights activist; Charles Harris Wesley (1891-1987), an African-American historian; Bell Irwin Wiley (1906-1980), American Civil War historian; Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), “the Father of Negro History,” and George Carlton Wright, vice provost of the University of Texas at Austin.

The collection has been organized into six series: Corespondence, Academic Career, Topical Files, Research Materials, Writings and Publications, and Oversize materails.


  • Creation: 1848-2001
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1967-1992


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Several folders of “Research Materials: Civil War” in Boxes 12-14 include photocopies of materials from various research and academic institutions; researchers should note that most do not permit the reproduction of their materials held by other institutions without their express written permission.

Biographical Note

Armstead Louis Robinson was born on April 30, 1947 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Reverend Dr. DeWitt Robinson (a Lutheran clergyman) and Ruth Dickinson Robinson. He attended segregated New Orleans public schools (Trinity Lutheran Elementary and Rivers Frederick Junior High), and Hamilton High School in Memphis, Tennessee, from which he graduated with honors in 1964.

Robinson enrolled at Yale University in 1964 as one of eighteen African-American men (out of 1,061 men admitted that year) and received a bachelor’s degree in History and graduated with honors and distinction in 1969 for his Scholar of the House thesis, “In the Aftermath of Slavery: Blacks and Reconstruction in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee, 1865-1870.” As a Yale student Robinson helped create an undergraduate Black Studies program culminating in a 1968 symposium, “Black Studies in the University,” and co-edited the conference anthology, Black Studies in the University; A Symposium (Yale University Press, 1969), one of the first books on Black Studies. This experience led to his lifelong interest in promoting Black Studies. While at Yale, Robinson began his teaching career with a lecture series on Black History for the New Haven, Connecticut public school system as well as elementary school day sessions and junior high school evening sessions during 1966-1968.

Robinson was a member of the dean’s list (1967-1969), captain of Yale’s ROTC Rifle Team (1966-1968), recipient of the 1968 Von Snidren Prize for book collecting, and a member of the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY). As an alumnus he served on the Yale Development Board (1983-1988), the Association of Yale Alumni Board of Governors (1981-1986), and the Yale University Council (1977-1995), of which he served as president during 1981-1986. In 1987 he was the recipient of the Yale Medal for Distinguished Service, his alma mater’s highest alumni honor.

Robinson briefly attended Yale Divinity School (1968-1970) before withdrawing to become a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, Illinois (1970), an assistant professor of Africana Studies at the State University of New York, SUNY-Stony Brook, and assistant professor of Africana and Afro-American Studies, SUNY Brockport (1970-1973). Later, Robinson was a visiting scholar or professor of history at the National Humanities Center (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina), Southwestern at Memphis [now Rhodes College], and Smith College, Massachusetts (Box 10), and the University of Richmond (Box 11).

It is unknown exactly when and why Robinson decided to become a Civil War historian. While an assistant history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 1973-1980), he began work on his dissertation at the University of Rochester, New York, where he was mentored by two of America’s leading historians, Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene D. Genovese. Genovese was among the scholars who early recognized Robinson’s talents as a historian. In his seminal study Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made (1974), Genovese cited Robinson’s thesis (pp. 700n26 and 725n4) as “‘In the Aftermath of Slavery: Blacks and Reconstruction in Memphis, Tennessee, 1865-1870,’ unpubl. undergraduate thesis, Yale University, 1969” (Boxes 5, 6, 15-16, 40-41).

Robinson received a Doctorate of Philosophy with Honors from the University of Rochester in 1977 for his dissertation “Day of Jubilo: Civil War and the Demise of Slavery in the Mississippi Valley, 1861-1865.” In 1980 he joined the University of Virginia faculty as an associate professor in the Corcoran Department of History and was also appointed the first director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies; as director he was the general editor of the Carter G. Woodson Series in Black Studies published by the University Press of Virginia and retained these positions until his death. In a June 25, 1980 letter to James T. McIntosh, editor of the Papers of Jefferson Davis, Robinson noted the racial and cultural significance of his Virginia appointment: “I am happier than I can possibly express to be able to return home to the south, particularly at UVA where I am scheduled to teach . . . I am indeed excited about the day when a southern black can teach southern and Civil War/Reconstruction history at a major southern university” (folder “Papers of Jefferson Davis,” Box 12).

He served on numerous university committees during his career. At the University of California, Los Angeles, he was a member of: the Faculty Senate (1975-1979); the American Field Written Comprehensive Examination Committee (1976-1979; chairman, 1977-1979), and, the Fellowships Committee, Center for Afro-American Studies (1975-1980; chairman, 1977-1980). While at the University of Virginia he was a member of the Faculty Steering Committee for Major in Afro-American and African Studies (1980-1995); the Faculty Senate (1981-1984; 1987-1990); the Afro-American Faculty-Staff Forum (1982-1984); the Presidential Advisory Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (1992-1995), and co-chairman, Venable Lane Burial Site Task Force/Catherine “Kitty” Foster Homesite (1993-1995). Other notable committee service consisted of the Planning Committee, Booker T. Washington Commemoration, Booker T. Washington National Monument (1983-1984); the Jefferson Davis Book Award Committee (1989-1991; chairman, 1991); the Abraham Lincoln Prize National Advisory Committee (1990-1995); the Afro-American Studies Advisory Committee, Princeton University (1991-1995), and the James Monroe Papers Advisory Board at Ash Lawn-Highland (1992-1997).

Robinson received numerous awards and scholarly recognitions including the Ford Foundation Fund for Distinguished Black Scholars (1971); the UCLA Faculty Career Development Award (1979-1980); the Carter G. Woodson Award, Journal of Negro History (1981); Fellow at the National Humanities and National Research Council (1984-1985); Jefferson Davis Memorial Lecturer, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia (1990); William Allan Neilson Research Professor, Smith College (1991-1992); Louis P. Gottschalk Memorial Lecturer, University of Louisville (1994), and the Jessie Ball DuPont Visiting Professor, University of Richmond (1994-1995). The Virginia State Library Board of Trustees issued a 1990 resolution of thanks for his service during 1984-1989 while a member of its board of trustees, and Robinson was declared an honorary citizen of Natchez, Mississippi in 1994. He was a member of several scholarly organizations including the American Historical Association, the American Studies Association, the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, the Organization of American Historians, and the Southern Historical Association.

Robinson published extensively. He co-edited Black Studies in the University: A Symposium (1969) [Boxes 1-2]; The African Religious Tradition: Historiography (Associated Publishers, 1987), and New Directions in Civil Rights Studies (University Press of Virginia, 1991). His posthumous magnum opus, Bitter Fruits of Bondage: The Demise of Slavery and the Collapse of the Confederacy, 1861-1865 (University of Virginia Press, 2005), was nationally acclaimed (Boxes 32-38). The author of several articles, essays and book reviews, Robinson’s most significant articles include: “In the Shadow of Old John Brown: Insurrection Anxiety and Confederate Mobilization, 1861-1863,” Journal of Negro History (Fall 1980) [Box 41]; “Beyond the Realm of Social Consensus: New Meanings of Reconstruction for American History,” The Journal of American History (September 1981) [Box 32], and, “Reassessing the First Reconstruction: Lost Opportunity or Tragic Era,” Reviews in American History, (March 1978) [Box 42]. He also wrote the foreword to Calder Loth’s Virginia Landmarks of Black History: Sites on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places (University Press of Virginia, 1995) [Box 42].

Robinson married Mildred (Wigfall) Ravenell, a University of Virginia law professor, at the university’s Colonnade Club in 1987. He died of complications from a brain aneurysm at the University of Virginia Medical Center, Charlottesville, on August 28, 1995, at the age of forty-eight. He was survived by his wife Mildred and their daughter Allison; his mother Ruth Robinson; his sisters DeWittress Taylor and Miriam Elmore and a brother, Llewlyn Robinson; two stepchildren, and a host of nieces, nephews and relatives. After a funeral on September 5, 1995, Robinson was interred at Cross of Cavalry Lutheran Church Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. A two-hour memorial “Service of Thanksgiving,” attended by nearly 500 colleagues, family and friends, was held on September 29, 1995 at the University of Virginia’s Old Cabell Hall auditorium. The Armstead L. Robinson Fellowship Fund was established at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies in his memory.


38 Cubic Feet (34 cubic boxes, 5 card file boxes, 3 clamshell boxes, and 1 oversize box)

Language of Materials



Original order has been preserved as much as possible; several original boxes (Boxes 15-19 [note cards] and 26-28 [1880 census schedules]) was retained because of the size of their particular contents. Items with no ostensible order have been organized with similar materials. Folders, with some exceptions, are arranged alphabetically within each series and their contents chronologically. Throughout the collection Robinson is occasionally addressed as “ALR,” “Armstead Robinson,” “Armstead L. Robinson,” “Prof. Robinson,” “Robbie” or “Robby.” Some folders abbreviate Robinson’s name as “ALR,” particularly in Series 5; his Bitter Fruits of Bondage folders are occasionally abbreviated as “BFOB. The collection is arranged in six series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1967-1995 (0.5 c.f., Box 1). This series consists of the bulk of Robinson’s general correspondence, 1967-1995, but researchers should note that other correspondence is available throughout Series 2, 3, 4 and 5. Letters of interest include a letter of Whitney Moore Young Jr. of the National Urban League, promising assistance to Robinson, August 18, 1969. Much of Robinson’s 1971 correspondence, while an assistant professor of Black Studies at State University of New York at Stony Brook, consists of his research inquiries relating to Black life in Memphis, Tennessee; there are also references to an accident he suffered, December 7 and 15, 1971. There are several interesting letters during the 1980s (however, researchers should note the absence of 1982, 1988 and 1989 letters in the general “Correspondence” folders), especially Robinson’s letter of resignation from the University of California at Los Angeles, May 13, 1980; many of his May 1980 letters pertain to his University of Virginia faculty appointment. Also of interest: a March 26, 1981 letter from Robinson to John Wilkinson, Alumni Affairs Development, Yale University, seeking financial assistance for the daughter of University of Virginia faculty colleague Vivian V. Gordon; November 23, 1981, to the Rector of the Board of Visitors, Virginia Commonwealth University, expressing opposition to the proposed consolidation of its library system with the school’s Visual Education Services; December 9, 1981, to the editor of The Harvard Magazine, describing Robinson’s role in the establishment of a Black Studies program at Yale University; March 1984 correspondence with Molefi Kete Asante (founder of Afrocentricity and a Black Studies proponent) accusing Robinson of falsely claiming to have been founding director of the Center for Afro-American Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Series 2: Academic Career, 1964-1969 (4.5 c.f., Boxes 1-5). This series is concerned with Robinson’s academic career and is divided into four subseries; there is some chronological and historical overlap among the folders. Subseries A: Yale University (Boxes 1-3) chiefly concerns Robinson’s work with the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY), its 1968 symposium “Black Studies in the University,” and seven audiotape reel recordings of the symposium’s proceedings later transcribed, published and edited by Robinson and others as Black Studies in the University: A Symposium (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969). Symposium participants included McGeorge Bundy; Lawrence Chisolm; Harold Cruse; Robert Dahl; Nathan Hare; Ron “Maulana” Karenga; Martin Kilson, Jr.; Sidney W. Mintz; Boniface I. Obichere; Donald Ogilvie; Alvin Poussaint; Edwin S. Redkey; Charles Henry Taylor, Jr.; Farris Thompson, and Gerald A. McWorter. Subseries B: State University of New York (Box 4) is concerned with Robinson’s faculty career and early interest in Black Studies. Subseries C: University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Rochester, New York (Box 4)includes Robinson’s UCLA class lecture notes and papers while a Rochester doctoral student. Subseries D: University of Virginia (Boxes 4-5)represents the longest and final phase of Robinson’s academic career. Included are lecture notes, syllabi, course evaluations, and various topical and subject files including folders for colleagues Matthew W. Holden Jr., Nathan A. Scott, Jr., and Jeanne Maddox Toungara; the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies (researchers should note that the majority of the Woodson Institute’s papers, including those during Robinson’s tenure, are retained there and may not yet be available for public research); the Corcoran Department of History (with correspondence and memoranda of Edward L. Ayers and Edwin E. Floyd concerning Robinson’s appointment and tenure); the Venable Lane Burial Site Task Force/Catherine “Kitty” Foster Homesite (a university committee Robinson co-chaired); the Office of Afro-American Affairs (1986 letters to University of Virginia president Robert O’Neil in defense of OAAA dean Paul L. Puryear and critical of the handling of his resignation as dean and the controversy surrounding it), and, the transcribed remarks of F. (Frederick) Palmer Weber (labor and civil rights activist.

Series 3: Subject and Topical Files (Boxes 5-11) consists of alphabetized subject and topical folders of select individuals followed by those of organizations and groups. Among the prominent correspondents (Boxes 5-7): Herbert Aptheker, Ira Berlin, LaWanda F. Cox, Stanley L. Engerman, Michael W. Fitzgerald, John Hope Franklin, Eugene D. Genovese, Herbert Gutman, Stephen Hahn, Vincent Harding, Darlene Clark Hine, C. Stuart McGehee, Pauline Maier, August Meier, Nell Irvin Painter, Lewis Perry, Edwin S. Redkey, William Scarborough, Robert Brent Toplin, Edmund S. Wehrle, and C. Vann Woodward. Folders of some of Robinson’s former students are also present.

Series 4: Research Materials (Boxes 11-32)is the collection’s largest series and contains research materials, 1850-1995, on the American Civil War, African-American history, Robinson’s dissertation and Bitter Fruits of Bondage book, and census projects. (His extensive census research is filed at the end of this series). The majority of nineteenth century material are photocopies. Folders are arranged alphabetically, and several contain materials cited in Bitter Fruits of Bondage. Folders of interest include: “First Africans in Virginia (Jamestown)” (Box 11); “Memphis Social History Project/Memphis Leadership Project” (Robinson’s letter of June 17, 1977 describes this project as having been conceived by him in 1966, while a junior at Yale, as a history of the Black community in Memphis) (Box 12); “Research Material: Reconstruction: Black Political Leaders in Memphis, Tennessee (city directory and census data)” (Box 14).Census materials comprise the latter part of Series IV, and at twelve boxes are the largest groups of materials in the series and the collection (Boxes 20-32).

Series 5: Writings and Publications (Boxes 32-42)the collection’s second largest series, contains Robinson’s writings, publications and manuscripts of his Yale honors’ thesis, University of Rochester dissertation “Day of Jubilo” [formerly “Cotton, Contrabands, and Mr. Lincoln’s War”], Bitter Fruits of Bondage (Boxes 32-38), articles, book reviews, public and conference lectures. These folders are arranged alphabetically by title and chronologically within title headings. Some of Robinson’s manuscripts were critiqued on his behalf by colleagues and fellow historians such as Ira Berlin, Edward L. Ayers, Michael F. Holt, Michael Johnson, Julie S. Jones, Theresa M. Towner, and Bell Irvin Wiley.

Series 6: Oversize (Oversize Box U-10) is the last for the collection. Items are arranged chronologically and include: a photostatic copy of a 1863 letter from James Seddon, Confederate secretary of war, to Jefferson Davis; two pencil and ink sketches of Carter G. Woodson; a 1994 certificate declaring Robinson an honorary citizen of Natchez, Mississippi; an incomplete numbered set of “Images of Afro-Americans of the Emancipation Era” (Hodges Publications); University of North Carolina Department of Geography census templates and demographic maps; photostatic copies of Civil War maps from National Archives (Washington, D.C.) record group numbers 77 and 94, and speaking engagement posters.


Donated by Prof. Mildred W. Robinson, 12 June 2003; Transfer by University of Virginia Press acquisitions editor Richard K. Holway, 9 August 2005; Tranfer by Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies, 2 October 2008.

Armstead L. Robinson papers
Ervin L. Jordan Jr.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Edition statement
Revised 2013

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States