From the Archives: B.D. Robinson, Monroe's activist, educator and legend
Bernie Dayton “B.D.” Robinson is remembered by many in our region as an active leader in the Black community, dedicating his life to activism and education. The Ouachita Parish Public Library Genealogy and Special Collections Department is home to resources that provide biographical information on some well-known Monroe residents, including Robinson. These documents help preserve the memory of this great man and many other people like him.
Born to sharecroppers on February 17, 1910 in Ouachita Parish, B.D.’s early life was dedicated to school. At age 14, he convinced his parents to allow him to leave Monroe to attend Straight College High School, a church-sponsored prep school in New Orleans, where he did janitorial work in exchange for room and board. B.D. went on to graduate from Dillard University in 1936. He wanted to be a doctor, but as he noted in the Library’s biography file, “the Depression caught up with me.” Instead, B.D. started his career in education. He taught math and science and coached basketball in Vernon, West Carroll, Madison and Ouachita Parishes. He was principal of J.S. Clark School from 1953-1974. Ever the student, B.D. earned a Master of Arts from St. Louis University and completed advanced study at Atlanta University and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Seeing a gap in post-secondary educational opportunities for Black students, B.D. and Emily Robinson, his wife of 57 years, opened the Robinson Business College in 1944 and continued to operate the school until 1986. The Library archival file of the school includes college catalogs, graduation programs and photographs that are integral to this piece of Monroe history.
In addition to his dedication to education, B.D. was an active community leader. Of note to the Library, he was integral in the establishment of the Carver Branch Library (now the Carver-McDonald Branch Library). The branch first opened in 1949 after a request from B.D. and the Colored Chamber of Commerce, as the Library system at this time was not integrated. Library services were first offered to the Black community out of Carroll Auditorium. After B.D. helped raise thousands of dollars, the Library purchased and renovated a Selman Field barracks building for the Carver Branch.
In 2001, B.D. was awarded the Monroe Chamber of Commerce’s Silverstein Award for leading the fight for equality and registering to vote in 1939. He, Eluen Hoston, Alex Brown, E.W. Sims and H.H. Marbles were the first Black people to register to vote in Ouachita Parish after Reconstruction. Robinson was also active in the Ouachita Valley Council of Boy Scouts, the Highway Safety Commission, the Northeast Louisiana Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation and was appointed to the Monroe City Council to fill the term of the late Charles Johnson between 1994-1996.
B.D. died July 12, 2002, in Ouachita Parish. His life’s work continues to impact generations of Ouachita Parish residents today.
Much of the information in this article was pulled from the Library’s primary resources, including:
- A copy of B.D.’s funeral program, found in the African American Funeral Program Book. This book is in the Library’s Genealogy Room and is accessible for reading during open hours.
- Biography files. These files contain historical and genealogical information, usually donated by the family or collected from various publications such as newspapers. They are also available in the Genealogy Room during open hours.
- Louisiana Digital Library. Ouachita Parish Public Librarians continually work to digitally preserve rare and historic photographs. The photos below are publicly accessible in the Louisiana Digital Library.