America W. Robinson (1855-1920) of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

July 28, 2021, Carol Robertson White of the Rutherford County Historical Society

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.

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.

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.

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. In 1890, Robinson earned a master of arts degree from Fisk.

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.

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