Judson Robinson

Duration: 47mins 49secs
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Interview with: Judson Robinson, Jr.
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: September 3, 1974
Archive Number: OH 154.1 & 154.2

Interviewer
0:00:02.1 This is September 3, 1974. We are interviewing Mr Judson Robinson, Jr, who is the only black city councilman in Houston. We want to begin this afternoon, Mr Robinson, with some general questions. Mr Robinson, you were already established in business when you entered into municipal politics. What led you to get involved in politics?

Robinson
Well, I think, like everybody, I felt that I had something to offer. I thought that I had some ideas about the way city government ought to be more community oriented. I have been active in civic and community affairs for a long, long time, and I’d always be surprised that I’d never see elected officials, whether it be for the county or whether they be legislators for the state or city officials. You never see the kind of participation, and that troubles me because I thought that if you’re going to be able to really respond to the needs of the people, you need to be a little bit more involved. That was one of the driving forces behind my going out for the city council position.

Interviewer
What type of political experiences had you had prior to your involvement in the city council candidacy?

Robinson
Well, I’d been precinct judge out in Pleasantville for a long, long time—Precinct 259. That precinct is noted statewide for having the highest voter percentage turnout of any precinct anywhere in the state. We have voted anywhere from 75 percent to as high as 94 percent, which is just unheard of. Pleasantville is a small community of primarily black people. We are pleased to have a number of senior citizens, a number of whom are white, but they are all in Pleasantville. This was started, I think, with the efforts of my father. He was the first precinct judge in Pleasantville, and I was the second. Things like pride and voter turnout had become a way of life with the people out there. I had the pleasure of being one of the campaign managers for Mrs Charles White. Unfortunately, she lost her bid for reelection to the school board. I had the great pleasure of being one of Barbara’s campaign managers at the time she won her job in the Texas Senate. So the political process was not new to me. The difference was instead of carrying the ball for somebody else, carrying it for yourself. That does tend to get to be a little bit of a problem sometimes.

Interviewer
When working with the Democratic Party at the precinct level in the late ‘60s, can you describe the attitude and significance that was placed upon the importance of the black members in the party?

Robinson
0:03:14.3 Yes, you see, one of the things that we learned almost immediately is that the Democratic Party had historically just assumed that they had our votes in their pockets, and then assuming that they didn’t do any other things that we thought ought to be done, like seeing that the best qualified man sometimes, who might happen to be black or brown, not be overlooked—or she not be overlooked. It was very interesting. I can remember a situation about 1963 or ’64 that a young man moved to Texas and joined the big law firm of Vinson & Elkins and the like. I think this young man’s name was Hill. I’m not sure. He was a very articulate, a very outspoken young black man. He worked his way up in the Democratic Party and was one of two vice presidents of the Harris County Democrats at a time when the president saw fit to resign. He moved out of the area, which made the first vice president then president. And I want you to know that it was amazing to me to see the attitudes of some of the people who had historically, I had thought, been a type of liberal, progressive person, but when it became apparent that this black man would be in fact head of the Harris County Democrats, there were some real animosities there. I’m pleased to say that since that day those kinds of conditions have changed, and they’ve changed due to primarily people like Barbara Jordan, people like Judge Andy Jefferson, and these people who are very articulate and who have had these ideas about what our limitations were or what our qualifications were. They’ve been able to kind of blow these kinds of ideologies out of the window. So I think that today the Harris County Democrats first look at qualifications and if they can do the job.

So, I say that it has been a maturing, growing-up process for the Harris County Democrats. They can just no longer assume that they have the black votes in their pocket, and they can no longer assume that once they’ve set up the programs that they’re going to be followed continuously. This trend is now turning around in that the last county elections a person was selected as endorsees by the Harris County Democrats and the Harris County Council of Organizations and a number of the so-called liberal-minded organizations, and these people didn’t too well at the county level. It takes more to motivate and get a person out to the polls than just an endorsement by this autonomous group. It takes organization and it takes precinct work. It takes block work. And we’ve fallen off of that. I think that you’ll see in the November elections for this year, 1974, with people like Barbara and those people having opposition—I think that you’ll see going back to the safeguards of precinct and black political organization.

Interviewer
0:06:48.9 Were there any particular or specific persons that led you to running for city council in 1969?

Robinson
Yeah. I think there were a couple of things. In 1953, my father was asked by a group of citizens to make the race for city council. I believe with all my heart that my father really wanted to do it. I think what happened, though— I think there were several things. Number one, my father recognized the importance of a well-organized campaign. Being black wasn’t necessarily enough. You had to have money and you had to have organization. You had to have across-the-city support. In 1953, I don’t think the city was sophisticated in its acceptance of the individual as it is today. So I’d say that, number one, the person that had the most influence on me was my father because I think that’s something that he wanted me to do. I think that, number two, the person whom I was running against, Mr Miller, had been so ineffective, had been so apathetic when it came to the needs of the people in the minority communities, that I felt that of all the men on council that would be the one man that I thought that I could rally some support all over from, because of a lackluster type political heritage he had carried.

Interviewer
My next question I think you have just about answered. That was, was there a particular reason you chose to run for the position just in District B?

Robinson
Yes.

Interviewer
What specific programs, reforms, or goals did you hope to put into effect if you had been elected at that time?

Robinson
0:08:54.5 Well, I was very much in favor— You see, one of the things that you learn, unfortunately, when you get down there is that everything deals in dollars. Everything in government deals in the dollar bill. We were talking about the solid waste departments back in 1969. Interestingly today—this is September 3, 1974. Did you know we had a strike today, by the garbage brokers of Houston? The very conditions that we talked about then—recognition of work, not taking these people for granted, the Civil Service umbrella, that kind of protection that they needed, they’re all Maintenance Department, some kind of visible indication that they were not excluded and the stepchild of the Houston employed people. I was very concerned about city government being more responsive in the neighborhoods, where the people could be visibly seen. It was always just depressing to me that a councilman—it was my impression. I don’t share the impression anymore, but I had the impression that the councilmen were like little prima donnas and they were all in a little world all to themselves and that people were reluctant to talk to them. They were unavailable to the people. Those were the kinds of things that I wanted to see if I couldn’t erase. And then thirdly, and most importantly, I felt very strongly, in 1969, that a person who happened to be black but who could really get his message over could really do a good job. They could win.

Interviewer
Can you tell us what specific groups supported you in your bid for election at this time?

Robinson
In ’69? Harris County Democrats endorsed me. I had the endorsement of the Houston Post. I had a very good friend who was still living at that time, Julius Carter of the Forward Times. Julius and the Forward Times newspaper supported me 100 percent. I had the support of most of the so-called “black” organizations and groups. Surprisingly, it was that kind of a year where we thought that we had the professional person, the laboring man, the domestic, the whole thing kind of going for us. I’ll tell you, when we lost, as hard as we worked and considering the money we spent, I was really disappointed.

Interviewer
0:11:44.2 How did you organize and run your campaign, and who were your campaign mangers?

Robinson
I had a real fine little lady by the name of Ms Carol Pinkett who works for Exxon in the executive capacity. Carol is a great organizer. She did a real, real good job. I had the National Association of Market Developers. These are black, professional men—men in the marketing field—who endorsed me as their candidate and gave me a great deal of support in that area. Interestingly enough, in 1969, a guy who helped me a lot was Fred Hofheinz. Fred was a big supporter. People like Barbara Jordan and Bob Ekhardt, people who were political friends and political supporters of one another, they were big helps. And of course I can never say enough about my family—my wife and my father and my stepmother, all of my people. They really stood behind me. I guess I’d have to give most of the credit to them.

Interviewer
What kind of response and reaction did you receive from the white community at speaking engagements, panel discussions, receptions, etc, during this time?

Robinson
Well, it’s so interesting because I did extremely well, and let me give you an idea of what I mean. Through the efforts of my wife and a young white lady whose name escapes me—Grayson Clemens(?) is her name. Grayson Clemens and I were both members of the United Fund, a spinoff of the— I’ll come back to the name of that organization. We were both members of this organization. We got to know one another, and a good friend of mine who was working in Mayor Welch’s office at that time by the name of Al Hendrick(?)—I called Al and told him that I was planning to run, and he was encouraging, but he was very clear with me about what my possibilities would be. He introduced me again to Grayson Clemens(?). We had been in organizations together, but really on an informal basis. Through Ms Clemens’ efforts, she arranged teas and coffees for me, especially in the middle and more affluent white communities—Memorial area, Tanglewood, River Oaks, places like that. Coffees and teas were arranged for me in great numbers. I can remember maybe 35 or 40 teas and coffees that I attended in areas other than black Houston. And we did very well. In a lot of instances, near the end, the wives would bring their husbands, and my wife and I would get a chance to meet the folks. We were doing pretty well. The thing that I didn’t understand is that in politics, especially in city government, it is very expensive to run citywide. In 1969, I spent about $29,000. I have no idea what Mr Miller, my opponent spent, but I would imagine that it was at least that, if not more. In order to wage a campaign citywide in Houston, you’ve got to be prepared to spend. If you are an incumbent, you’ve got to be prepared to spend, conservatively, $20,000. If you are a challenger, as there were several open spots last time, some $70-odd-thousand dollars were spent by people running for councilman.

Interviewer
0:16:09.1 What particular factors do you attribute to your defeat in this election?

Robinson
A lack of real organization, a lack of not having the money. I felt that a lot of the things that we did were things that I possibly could not have done. A lot of the civic clubs and all that you make, sometimes it’s a good idea when you’re trying to do them all to not do that. Rather, you should do one meeting, because all I’d be doing is dropping in here real quick and leaving and not really get a chance to know the people. Dropping in here right quick. It was always like an entourage. Here I come with 5 guys. We rented a bus and all that junk. The second time around we spread it out. My dad took one, my wife took one, my uncle took one, my brother would take one, and then they’d say, “Jud will try to get by here tonight, but he’s at this.” And the people kind of liked that. But I think a lack of money and not being as well known citywide as one needs to be were the primary reasons for losing.

And being black, too—we just kind of underestimate sometimes the underlying forces that go along with it. I know a guy who put out a program on Barbara and me. If you remember the 1969 campaign, a young black man by the name of Curtis Graves was running for mayor. Curtis and I were not on good terms, unfortunately. It didn’t have anything to do with politics; it was business. So we weren’t on the best of terms. A lot of things that Curtis would want us to do together I would reluctantly do them or not do them. I think that had some effect. Then this man got ready to run out his paper a day or two before the campaign. I had a downtown office. He mails out literally thousands of flyers, and these flyers, on the front page of this paper, say something to the effect of—kind of an off-slant thing—as to how blacks are taking over Houston. They had Barbara, Curtis Graves, and my picture on them. You pass out 50,000 of those in all the supermarkets—bam—you can get knocked down.

Another area, I did not go with a professional political advertising agency. I went with some friends, some very sweet and great people, but they were people who were more accustomed to filling up the Astrodome and getting people to buy tickets to circuses and these kinds of things than people who know what it takes to turn out voter interest. That was a factor too. But I think the fact that a black man was running for mayor, that a lot of real slick things were done. I’m not saying they were done by Mr Miller, because I don’t think that he did it, but I think other people interested in keeping the status quo did. And the fact that we just didn’t do the job, we just didn’t get it out.

Marchiafava
0:19:48.0 How does one go about raising money without compromising?

Robinson
That’s a very good question. In 1971, we were very lucky. I have a very good friend here, a young black physician by the name of John Coleman(?). John and I were in college together, to give you an idea. John had an affair for me. At this one affair, he raised in excess of $7000 for me. John and I are business partners, but he’s never once asked me anything about city government. He could care less. I had other friends who are professionally trained who would do things like coffees and teas, this kind of thing. One of the things that I’ve been so lucky with is to be Judson, Jr. My father is a very respected man in this community, and a lot of the white business community were big supporters of me through the efforts of my father.

I can remember my dad and I are members of the Houston Mortgage Bankers. That’s a sophisticated a group of businessman that you can get—all the mortgage bankers in this town—American General, American Mortgage, United, all these guys. And one day they thought it was also important that the minority community have some representation, in terms of communications and these kinds of things. So one Monday—as a rule, I was never too frequent at Monday luncheons, but my father was. They called him one day and asked him not to come, that they were going to do a little soul searching themselves. They felt they could talk more honestly if here were not at the meeting. They came (inaudible) about hiring me after that. I’ve never had one, since that time, to come to me and say, “Don’t forget, I want this water district passed.” I was third removed, which, in a lot of instances, give you a lot more leeway than a guy that’s going on a one-to-one basis. A lot of my contributions, I’m happy to say, came from the black community, which was something new too. We have just developed this sophistication in our community that we will financially go out and support a candidate rather than have him sit out in the office all day and come in and give him $25. I think this is a sophistication that we are developing in Houston, and it’s getting better.

Marchiafava
0:22:27.3 From what segments of the black community did you receive support?

Robinson
The first time, in the areas of the so-called blue collar workers, I think I did very, very well. I think in the more sophisticated community, the university-type people, I don’t think that we did as well. I don’t think anybody did as well because we had not been able, at that time, to really involve them into the spirit of the thing as we were with Dr Barnett, say, for example. People like Barnett had a thing with the black professional community. A lot of affairs where Barnett and I received substantial sums of money, a few of them were primarily because it was what we call Barney—Barnett—it was his charisma could get to these guys. I think I had a little bit more appeal to the little guy, and Barney had a lot more appeal to the professionals. So the second time, because Barnett was in the campaign, a lot more enthusiasm was generated from that professional community, and we did very well. The night that we won, interestingly—I was talking to his wife today—a businessman—the night that we won, we were having a party win or lose. Barnett, when it was announced that Barney and them had won and I was still leading by 3000 or 4000 votes, I felt that that was a good indication that I would win too. You had Citizens for Good Schools, well organized, community organized efforts. You had the Harris County Council of Organizations, very well organized at that time. You had fine people like Judge Surrey Davis, Alfred and Alice Bond(?), people who were really committed. My lawyer, for example, was a young man by the name of Mark McDonald. Mark would go and raise—in ’69—he would raise $500. In ’71, he raised $10,000, visiting the same people. But a keener awareness in how they’re involvement was so important to us winning or losing the race— Our second campaign, in ’71, we spent in excess of $50,000. That’s a staggering sum of money. Fortunately, we were within $1200 or $1400 of paying all of it the night that the elections were in.

Interviewer
Can you tell us your reasons to appealing to Mayor Welch at this time to change the city charter regarding the election of council members?

 

 

Robinson
Yeah. Louis Welch made it very clear to me when I went on board— He was a little apprehensive. You’ve got to remember, he had been in a very close race with Hofheinz. Louis Welch knew my relationship with Hofheinz’s family. It was very touchy with the mayor for maybe as much as 3 months, maybe 4 months, because here’s a man who has been elected again, but who has one section of the community that gives him less than 6 percent of the vote. See, blacks voted almost 94 percent for Fred the first time and almost 98 percent the second time. We had a little proving to do to one another.

0:26:32.3 When I first went on the council, I was convinced that what I had to do was beat my ruler on the desk every day and run around the council chambers screaming like an Indian to get something done. But I realized that if I would do that, then it would give anybody who wanted to stop progress an excuse not to do the things that were so desperately needed, especially on the north side. So I found it to my advantage to listen, to play the same kind of game in politics that I play in business. I give some and I take some, because I’m interested in the overall process.

One of the people that I just couldn’t stand when I went on council was Frank Mann. Frank Mann and I now are just outstanding friends. It is just amazing. If you had told me that I would even sit next to Frank Mann, even speak to him, I’d be amazed. I had the impression that he was racist, that he was very unprofessional and was a disgrace to the city council. But I want you to know that that man has done more to help me in getting things done in all the people, but especially the people on the north side, than anybody in there. Now, maybe he’s a Lyndon Johnson—he’s had to learn—you know—it’s turned like a worm. Sometimes you see that 50,000 votes are going to come out—that will make you turn around. He has been genuine.

We’re doing things like our Avis(?) Holmes swimming pool. It’s been on the drawing board for years. That’s in the ground. The Avis Holmes Library is going. We finally got our Pleasantville Park, our Denver Harbor Park, our Tuffley Park. We had a little park called Dodson Lake Park—a little lake out there, full of snakes. The kids are scared to play out there. I went on the council and the first 3 or 4 months I was trying to get them to fill that up. They were saying wait until they got field dirt somewhere and somewhere else. Then, during this interim period, I developed this relationship with Frank Mann, and I go to Frank and I say, “Frank, listen, can you help me with this?” He said, “Yeah, let’s look at it.” And that’s the guy who has been most helpful to me in getting me through some channels and getting some things done. We’re now working on the process of 5 new, little community-type swimming pools. Yes, most of the people are black and brown; that’s true. But that’s what they need. It’s been an interesting thing.

Another guy who gets a lot of criticism from the minority community is (??), one of the most progressive guys, as far as race in concerned, in there, as far as I can determine. He works as hard for the people in Alameda Plaza as anywhere.

Interviewer
0:30:03.9 What was the reaction of Miller when he found out you were going to be his opponent?

Robinson
Well, the first time, I think Mr Miller was not completely out of tune with things. He knew that I was Judson Robinson’s son, and he knew that we could raise some money and that our friends were not just in black Houston. There was a first committee man, black, in the state of Texas. So we weren’t new people to Miller. We had met with him on a number of occasions on things pertaining to Pleasantville. So I think he considered us a worthy opponent, but everybody campaigns different. He did not campaign too strongly.

Interviewer
There has been some controversy concerning Mr Miller’s campaign tactics during this time. Can you tell us about that?

Robinson
In ’69, I thought he did real strongly in that he would say things like—he’d run ads in that paper—and say, “Don’t let these people take our city,” and this kind of stuff. But I think he lost a lot of his support in the last election. He ran a little thing that was just completely biased but was a great asset to me. He had some pamphlets printed up and they said, “Would you vote for me, A.L. “Curly” Miller? I’ve done this and this. Or would you vote for this Negro, Judson Robinson?” He made it such a racial slur that it insulted good people. And after I got to know Curly, I felt that he was really biased, because that being a major racial issue had really passed him by. People out there were more concerned about whether or not the ditch was cut than the color of a guy’s skin.

Interviewer
Did you support Curtis Graves for mayor in this election?

Robinson
Yes, in terms of giving him financial assistance and the like. I did not go out and actively beat the bushes for Curtis. I did not have a lot of respect for him as a businessman, and when you’re running the city whose budget is in excess of some $400,000, 000 a year, I didn’t feel that it was in the best interest of all Houstonians that he be elected.

Interviewer
0:32:41.9 The two of you did basically have the same stands on most of the issues of that period.

Robinson
Yes. Unfortunately for Curtis, Curtis was a—and I’ve told him this a million times—Curtis was one of the most under informed men I have ever met in my life. He would never, never do his homework. He would deal in a whole lot of rhetoric all the time and embarrass me and embarrass the people who were at these places—when we were invited places together.

Marchiafava
Do you feel he was too militant to succeed as a politician?

Robinson
No. I feel that he didn’t do the job he should have done in preparing. I think that he had 2 terms in the legislature. I think Curtis should have pursued some course of business. He should have gotten his law degree, gone into business or something. I have never known him—in the 8 or 9 years that I’ve known him—I’ve never known Curtis to do anything in the vein of constructive employment. He worked over at Standard Service(?)—big mess there, never did get to the end of it. He worked with Forward Times—big mess. Curtis got so wrapped up in politics that he would depend upon his livelihood as to the number of speeches he gave—what his fees were. Curtis was under the impression that he was the Texas Clayton Powell, and he just wasn’t. It’s nothing personal. He just wasn’t. I can remember he and I going places together—on one occasion specifically—he had allowances—per capita allowances—for what we spend for the Fire Department, Police Department—you know—each citizen, per capita. We were dealing with the library. It’s one of the things that I feel very strongly about. In 1969, we did a lot of stuff. We were talking about per capita—what is spent per capita for the library. He never understood what per capita meant.

Interviewer
Mr Robinson, there was another black candidate who ran in the race in 1971, Mr Ovide Duncantell. Can you tell us something about him—your impressions about Mr Duncantell?

Robinson
0:35:27.4 Yes. I think Mr Duncantell is a very courageous black man. I think unfortunately for Mr Duncantell a lot of the black community did not understand what he was all about. I think that he has a place in our community, and I think that in time Mr Duncantell will be a real important political contributor to the party here. In 1971, I did not work actively for Mr Duncantell. I supported him financially, but I did not go out and make any kinds of endorsements for him. You’ve got to remember that in 1971, I was so darned busy trying to correct the ’69 mistakes that I didn’t worry about—didn’t get involved with anybody else’s races.

Interviewer
During the time that you were running in 1969 and 1971, did at any time your family receive threats or harassment from any conservative segment?

Robinson
Oh, yes. Of course. I think that’s something we had to learn to live with. We’d get these telephone calls at night. People would tell us what they were going to do to me the next day. I never will forget one time, in 1969, we were all invited out to northeast Houston, and I received this information from the—supposedly the Intelligence Department of the Police Department. They told me not to go out there. They had received inside information that I’d be hurt, physically attacked. I wouldn’t let my wife go with me that night, but 3 or 4 of my friends went out there with me. Those were some of the nicest people. I go out there all the time now. I don’t know what went on that night. I don’t know if some people appealed to whoever the segment was that was supposed to get on me or not. But I enjoy going out there. That’s my favorite section of town, Northeast Houston.

 

Interviewer
After your defeat in 1969, many supporters suggested to then Mayor Welch that you be appointed to fill a vacancy that had come about on the council. What was your position in response to this suggestion?

Robinson
Well, initially—I have to really tell you the truth—initially, after spending all the money that we thought we’d spend in 1969, and seeing how large the city is, I felt that that was an easier way for a person to get into office. Now that I’ve had the chance to run it and win it, I’d much rather do it this way, because, as stated earlier, I don’t have any allegiances in those critical areas. I vote my convictions, and I don’t owe anybody on that political stratum anything. I think those are the things that you have to look at. I asked for it. I sure did. A lot of people tried to help me get it. That was in 1968, before the ’69 campaign. The man who ended up getting it was a man by the name of Dr Love, who has since passed. From what I’ve been able to learn about Dr Love’s political activities in the city, he was a very fine and genuinely good councilman. So I like it better, the fact that we were able to go into it and do it on our own.

Interviewer
0:39:22.9 I think you commented—did you make the suggestion yourself or—?

Robinson
Somebody did it for me. It was an interesting thing, and it’s kind of wild. Varee Shields, who works at Forward Times, when the vacancy came up in 1968, he called me. He said, “Who do you think would make a good councilman for my community?” So I named a few people, like Mr Jim Jimmerson, a very fine man. I named my father. I named 2 or 3 people. He said, “Well, interestingly enough, we’ve just done a deal and your name has come up more than anybody else’s.” And then the business and professional men’s group and the market developers were the 2 groups that got behind in trying to help me get the appointment. People like Mr Mack Hammond(?) were very strong in my camp.

Interviewer
Do you feel that your candidacy did perhaps cause some change, get some influence and recognition for the black community, as a result of your good showing in the race?

Robinson
I would like to think so. I know that when I’m with the other councilmen, I have to remember that the council has gone through change in that they have now, in a lot of instances, been into the black community on a very informal basis. We’ve gone into clubs like the Northeast Corner or to lunch. Once in a while, each of us will treat the others to lunch. I had the pleasure of taking the mayor and all the councilmen to Prince’s, to Ruby Grill. Well, the people can see these guys on a very informal basis and talk issues. I had them all out to my house on occasion, and I’ve been to theirs, so yes, I think in that area I would like to think we’ve had some better understanding of each other.

Interviewer
0:41:36.4 What type of political activities were you involved in after the 1969 election?

Robinson
I blamed everybody for losing—all my white friends, all my black friends. I blamed everybody. I think for about—oh—about that November through maybe the spring, I was really kind of out of it. Then an interesting thing happened. I think it was Bob Eckhardt. I was having some serious opposition. It was so fantastic to see Bob win again and to see Bob run. The party was really alive. We were getting ready for the November general elections. I’m getting ahead of myself. But I think people like Barbara and Bob Eckhardt, and those kinds of people running and winning did a lot to get me motivated to run again.

Interviewer
In 1971, had your motivations for running for political office changed or been modified or were they basically about the same?

Robinson
They had been modified quite substantially in this area. After I made up my mind that that was really what I wanted to do, I’d sit down, and at night I would chart all the things that I had done the year before—how I’d lost, what I had done to lose, and this and that. Then, I kept trying to develop my base. In 1971, the time I went on the council, I was on 26 major boards in the city of Houston—the United Fund, Community Welfare Planning Association, the USO, Family Service—all kinds of boards and commissions where I could be on a one-to-one basis with various people from all segments of our community. I worked very hard at that. I sacrificed my business and my family, trying to get the kind of name identification that one had to have to win citywide.

Interviewer
I think you’ve answered this, but if you care to comment—how did you organize and run this campaign as compared to the first?

Robinson
0:44:28.4 I took all of the— Interestingly, I would go back home with my little appointment book—kept it—and I’d go back and try to keep up with those people. And I tried to see just what my going to that affair had done and what going to this had done and how it had helped me. And then I ran the kind of campaign where I tried to make as few mistakes as possible. You see, when you get ready to run, you’re going to have all your material printed up, but if you don’t have your list printed up, if you don’t have all your stamping done, if you don’t have all your addressing done, if you haven’t gotten up and gotten somebody who is going to sack that mail—if you’re going to have a bulk thing and do it that way—if you’re going to have your locations and have it that way, making sure that your yard signs went out just right, making sure that your big billboards didn’t go out until just the right time, your radio advertising and all that— I went with a professional advertising agency, Culberson and Heller. Those guys had a lot of success. They did my campaign, they did Judge Jefferson, they did Judge Peavy they did Fred Hofheinz. They’ve been real successful guys. They did Senator Lloyd Bentson. These guys were not cheap, but they were very professional. I’d get mad a lot of the time, but you had to listen to them. They knew what they were doing.

Interviewer
In your tenure, did you receive adequate and sufficient coverage from the news media? Did you have any problems with this?

Robinson
I thought that the news media was extremely generous to me. I was on the Channel 2 advisory board, and I was on the KYOK advisory board. I was close to people like Ms Hobby and close to people like Governor Hobby. These kinds of people are the people that you have to have, especially from the minority side of the community, to make the kind of inroads that you have to make to win.

Interviewer
Were there any different or unique approaches you used at this time that you did not use the second time? Do you think we’ve adequately covered this?

Robinson
No, let me tell you what I did. The first time around, I did not want race to be an issue. I’d make people uncomfortable by not talking about the race thing. It’s on their minds. When you see this black guy here, you want to know how it’s working. Then they had to talk me into it. The second time I’d say, okay, the first thing is that I’m black. Let’s deal with it. Now, other than that, what else is the problem that we can talk about? That was the difference. The first time, I wanted to be colorless. The second time, I said, hey, let’s talk about that I am black. And my ads were that way. I was really— I didn’t know how the black community was going to handle it. I was worried about whether or not the black community would think that I’d be selling out and this and that. But I got no real feedback.

Interviewer
0:47:55.2 What particular issues did you have to address yourself to in 1971?

Robinson
Oh, it was so interesting, because the Northside has been in such doldrums for such a long time, you could pick up a 1935 political brochure and talk about Northside and things would still be there—water, sewer, community identification in the city government. The police were just an atrocious problem. The Public Works Department, it has improved—it’s much better—but we’ve still got a long way to go. So those were the things, and then certain community involvement—the night council meetings, the council going out to the neighborhoods and visiting people. Those are some of the things we did.

Marchiafava
You put such emphasis on the police. What were the problems?

Robinson
Well, the problems are still here with us. Unfortunately, we had a situation one time when the police department was judge and jury. They made the arrest, they administered the punishment right there—beat your head, embarrass you in front of your children.

(Break in audio)

The position and the opinion of blacks have improved somewhat, as far as the police department is concerned. But you see, you’ve got to remember that for so many years, if you asked the average black person what he thought of the police department, they’d always tell you the same thing. They oppress us. They’re mean. They’re here to keep us under control. We had a meeting one time, when Dr Sawyer first came to Texas Southern University. We had a meeting in the mayor’s office. There were all kinds of people in there—bankers, lawyers, doctors, you name it. The mayor went around the room and asked everybody to a man what they thought of the police department, and every one of them said they thought the police department was abusing some black people.

Marchiafava
0:50:08.6 What year was this?

Robinson
About 1967-’68. No, it was ’68. No, it was ’69. We had the riot in ’67, and Sawyer came in ’68. These were outstanding people—pharmacists and labor leaders and just hard-working, community-type people—and they, to a man, said they were oppressors. When I went on the council, Short gives everybody—when he was there—these little ID things. They showed your blood type and a picture. And I’ll never forget the first time that a policeman stopped me after I was on the council. I’d been on for about a week. It was on a Wednesday morning. I was running a little late for a meeting. I was doing about 55-60. I saw this guy on a motorcycle. I wasn’t trying to be belligerent. He put his light on, and I pulled over. He said, “What do you think you’re doing?” And I said, “Officer, I’m on my way to City Hall for a meeting.” “What kind of meeting are you going to?” I said, “Well, I hope I’m going to do something for you today. What’s your name, officer?” He told me. I said, “Well, I’m Councilman Robinson.” His whole attitude changed, just dropped. He was very nice. We talked. I got ready to drive off and he said, “Now, boy, take it easy in that thing.” See what I’m saying? This is still a deal.

About 4 months ago I was coming back from a meeting. I drive a little Mercedes. It gives me all kinds of trouble. There’s a light out in the front, and something is wrong in the back. It’s in the shop tonight. It was about 11:30 at night, and these 3 policemen saw this black guy in this beat up old car. They stopped me. I got out of the car and the policeman said, “Uh-oh, we really did it this time, didn’t we?” I said, “What’s the matter, officer?” “Well, Councilman, I didn’t know it was you.” What I’m saying is that the image of us, as a people, has improved because they know that I am down there now and they know that people like Palmer Bowser are there. They know that Judge Jefferson is there. They know that Judge Davis is there. They know that Judge John Peavy is there. So they are less likely now, don’t you understand, to take that kind of opportunity to just abuse and have fun.

0:53:11.3 In 1958, my dad was precinct judge and my mother was still alive. My wife and I had just made a nice addition to our house. We live in the Pleasantville area. We’re all very close out there. A lot of our friends are from Louisiana and very fair people—fair complexions. My neighbor next door, who had been ill that night and couldn’t come to the party, came to our door. I said, “Yeah, Jack, come on in.” And he said, “No, I just want you to know there are policemen in your back yard. What are you all doing?” I said, “Nothing.” So this was in, like November, and we didn’t have the air conditioner on. The windows were open because it was stuffy in the house. I ran around the back of my house, and, sure enough, there are 3 policemen—I had a big picture window on the back of my house—like this in my window. And I said, “What are you all doing?” And they said, “Who are you?” I said, “I live here. This is my house. What do you want?” They said, “You want to be smart, don’t you?” I said to myself, Uh-oh. I’m out here by myself. These guys will jump on me and say all kinds of things. I said, “Officer, if you think something is wrong, why don’t you come inside.” I figured if I got them in there, then I had a better chance of them not jumping all over me. So he said, “You think you’re smart. Let me let you see what this flashlight feels like.” I said, “You don’t have to do that. Just come in and you can see.” Finally, I get them in. They’re 3 spies. One of them is just out for kicks. He wasn’t even a policeman. I saw him run across my yard in plain clothes. He ran across and got in the car. Now these policemen are inside. My brother just finished law school, and there are people there like John (??)’s son. We asked them what was wrong. Well, here are these officers sitting there. “We’re going to arrest you all for consuming liquor after hours.” I said, “But, sir, I’m in my house.” He said, “I don’t care. It’s against the law.” My brother said, “No, it isn’t. I’m a lawyer.” So anyway, they called the sergeant. The sergeant comes out; he sees what’s going on. He recognizes that my father is the precinct judge and stuff like that. He apologizes. He tries to smooth it all over. We’re throwing a party and people are scared. We said no. So we go to council, and they suspend all of the guys for 5 days each. My wife and I lived in fear for 6 months. My wife was a nurse at that time and always on call. She was a surgical nurse at the VA. We couldn’t take the phone off the hook. They would call every night and say, “Nigger, I’m going to get you tonight. I’m going to get you.” I’d be afraid to go out of my house. So I know what it is. I’ve had the abuse and things. But thank the Lord for people like Lynn and people like Fred Hofheinz. Things are changing. They’ll get on a guy— Now, they may not do it— You won’t see it as you did, say, with Louis, because Louis went in it and was always very surprised. He was very naïve when it came to the police department. But Fred knows.

0:57:02.9 Two months ago I had a black guy come in here—Green and his brother. I remember him from an incident with the police just last year sometime. He told me that a policeman hit him in the mouth with the butt of a .45. Can you imagine that? I had a little bad attitude about Green anyway, because last time I tried to help Green, Green had beat the hell out of a policeman. To make a long story short, this time Green and his brother were in a club. These 2 undercover guys—liquor guys—were fighting with Green because Green said something to one of the policemen’s girlfriend who works in the club. They not only hit Green in the mouth, they shot at his brother and just missed him. They shot up a place with 300 people in it and didn’t report it. Those guys are walking the beat—both of them. One is black and one is brown. So these things aren’t publicized, but the word gets around about these guys that go around and beat up folks. You watch the attitudes when you see them giving people tickets and things. The guy makes $12,000. That’s a lot of money to make when you’re 21 years old. But it’s going to be better. By the time Fred leaves office, I think the City of Houston will have a police department with a fine reputation, providing Fred can stay on top of it. He’s going to turn it around.

(Break in audio)

Interviewer
0:59:01.9 Interview with Mr Judson Robinson, Jr, September 13, 1974. We are continuing talking about the election in which he was victorious in 1971 for city council. Mr Robinson, what were your immediate personal reactions to your victory at this time?

Robinson
I never will forget it. I was real concerned because we had been a little bit behind in the early terms, as we had been the time before. I had gone to my house to pick up my wife and family. My sister was here from Minnesota and my brother from Atlanta. We decided that the returns were so close, so early, that perhaps we had the chance to really do it. We went ahead and made plans for a victory party. We went over to the Sheraton Lincoln and rented the top floor. My brother and sister and I sponsored a party for all of our candidates—people who had worked with us and people who had supported us, and all the CGS candidates and folks like that. I think the CGS candidates came in about 9:00, and they had won very substantially. I felt that if they had won, then I probably had a good chance to win. So that’s the way we celebrated it. It was a festive occasion on the top floor of the Sheraton Lincoln. My brother and sister and I paid for it out of our pockets. We spent a lot of money, but I had my grandmother and my stepmother and my father and my sister and brother, my wife and children. It was a very festive occasion. I was so excited. I’ll never forget, when I got home I was just hardly able to sleep. It was like 4:00 in the morning. I just couldn’t sleep.

Interviewer
1:01:08.8 Mr Robinson, this particular victory, do you think there were any particular crises going on in the community at that time that perhaps swayed a great many votes in your camp, in 1971?

Robinson
Oh, I think there were several significant things that happened. I think that my opponent ran a very poor race. He brought the racial issue in, and we were able to get a lot of sympathetic votes because of that. And then, number two, poor Mr Duncantell was a candidate. Mr Duncantell was beat up by police and that was a mess. It stirred up more community interest and got more people out to the polls to vote. Then I think the CGS candidates ran their most effective campaign. There were people that supported CGS, to a great degree, and supported Hofheinz.

Interviewer
Do you think that perhaps the Dowling Street incident also contributed in any way?

Robinson
Well, that’s kind of interesting. I got a letter—in fact I got several letters—from the white community. I was one of the people who had come out and spoke very strongly about the Dowling Street incident and what we ought to do and how, as black people, we ought to do something about it. I got a lot of letters of resentment from the white community because we had taken a stand on the Dowling Street incident and what we thought about it. You have to understand, the Dowling Street incident concerned some rebel-type young people, people who wanted to bring about change with a revolution. I don’t think that the Dowling Street organization had support or the real interest of the black community. We used to pass up and down Dowling and see boys with their guns and stuff and we’d just laugh at them. It was just funny—seriously funny.

Marchiafava
May I just pick up for a moment? While we’re on the subject of the Dowling Street incident, do you think the police acted with haste?

Robinson
1:03:44.2 Oh, no. I think that they did—Chief Short and his men—the way that they operated—I think that they were very calculating. They were very much on top of the scene. They gave these young people with these faulty guns, shot guns, stuff like that, a false sense of security and a false sense of victory, and when they got ready to hit them, they hit them. The City of Houston has, without a doubt, one of the best riot-trained groups I’ve ever seen anywhere. Those guys were just very well prepared and could have done it at any time. Why they chose that particular night is, of course, a question. But, no, I think they could have done what they did that night any day, from the time it started.

Marchiafava
I’ve heard it described as a police assassination.

Robinson
That’s about the way it looks. Very little return fire, very little— When the policemen really hit the area, there was very, very little that those young people could have done as far as an insurrection or even to defend themselves. The young man that was killed lived out in Pleasantville, where I live. It was very obvious that this was the boy that they were after, and they took him, killed him. So I have to agree that that was an assassination. They could have done it a whole lot easier—tear gas or cordoning off the street, give the boys some kind of demand, give them so much time to come out. I understand that none of that was really done. They sealed the area off then systematically moved in with sharpshooters and guys on top of buildings and this kind of stuff. They had all of the strategic locations to take care of this incident and they knew it.

Marchiafava
It’s also been said that one of the reasons why the police moved in is because these militants were stopping traffic, boarding buses, stopping cars and getting money from these people. Is that true?

Robinson
Yes, I bet that’s true. We have to understand that these young men, in most instances—99 percent of the time—were still in violation of the law. Their motives, in a lot of instances, were good. They were trying to do something to bring attention to the plight of the black Houstonian, but their message—stopping cars, stopping buses, stopping traffic, making demands and walking up and down, parading in front of the building with their shotguns and rifles— I’m ashamed to say that we passed by, just unable to believe that this thing was going on, but we didn’t go in there, as black people concerned about our community, and try to reason with those young men. We waited until it was all over. I think that’s a real shortcoming on our part.

Interviewer
1:07:15.5 When you say “our,” Mr Robinson—

Robinson
I mean the blacks involved in the community at that time. We had people like Reverend Earl Allen, with his project Hope Development. We had other groups—Mr Marshall, with—(break in audio). We had Reverend Lawson. We had some good leadership, but we didn’t react. Rather than plan as we should have, after it was all over, I think we reacted, but we didn’t act in a positive vein and sit down with these young people and try to explain to them what the situation was and where the community was and where it was going. Yeah, I think we failed.

Marchiafava
Why did you fail?

Robinson
Well, I think that we all took it like a joke. The young man that led the insurrection was well known to a lot of us, and a lot of us just kind of put him off as maybe a young man who was bent on hurting the efforts that the community was making. His efforts and his direction were just as important, if not more important, but I don’t think we could appreciate the young man and his efforts. I really don’t. I think we missed that. I think we missed the whole point of what he was trying to say, so I think we let him down.

Interviewer
Going back to the victory, can you explain and give us some information as to why you think your opponent, Curly Miller, was hesitant in conceding the election?
Robinson
Well, I remember that in that race, as I can remember, there were some 200,000 votes cast. I had only won, against the 2 opponents, by little over 200 votes, I think; although, we had some 30,000 more votes, as I remember, than Mr Miller. If you added Mr Miller and Mr Allen’s votes up, the difference of my majority was less than 300. I remember that. The man had been in office 10 years and a recount could possibly have been of some benefit to him. Mr Miller was very bitter. He wanted to win just as I had won. I think that it’s a thing for a “white” to accept the fact that a black has beat him. It just personally hurt. But politically, I don’t think that he felt that the outcome would be different. Recounts in Houston and in Harris County have, to my knowledge, never changed the results of an election. They never have. That’s the first thing we checked when he asked.

1:10:48.3 But I was very relieved when he called and decided not to do that, because, you see, let’s say that we were to have had to have a run-off election. We would have to go through that whole thing again of raising money. I had spent all the money. We’d have to go through having to raise all this money again, another 4 weeks of campaigning. Everybody in my camp—my wife and my children and my parents—they were just burnt out.

Interviewer
Can you perhaps describe for us, or explain, the reaction that Mayor Welch had to your becoming a member of the City Council?

Robinson
I thought he was very gracious. I thought he was very understanding. You have to understand that he was a councilman for about 8 years. One thing that he heard as a councilman was how we react and what we expect and the like. Mr Miller’s secretary, for example, was still the secretary of the councilman, on city civil service. This lady had almost 30 years of seniority there. He was gracious and kind enough to give me the opportunity to select my own secretary. He was able to put this lady in a position, I think, in the library. I’m not sure. She was in the library where she could work her time in an area where she was qualified and then get her city retirement. I would imagine that that lady is probably retired. I would think that she’s probably retired, because she was very close to retirement then. She’d been with the city about 30 years.

Interviewer
What was significantly historical about you being elected?
Robinson
Well, I think a couple of 3 things. I think that, number one, it gave the black community the opportunity to say— I’ll never forget, I used to always—it made me feel so good about winning. People would come up to me all the time, everywhere that I would go, and they’d say, “We did it.” It was a very personal thing with most people, because most people had known me and known my father and all, and they took it very personally. They really did. I think it was like a personal victory. Whereas a great person like, say, Barbara—Barbara is a very warm, genuine type of person, but you’re not subject to see her in a nightclub or at the bowling alley or at the swimming pool or in the park, playing on a softball team. But I did that, because that was just a way of life, so I had a very close identity with the people. I say I did because I think that shifted rather dramatically.

Interviewer
1:14:05.4 Was there any opposition or hostility of any type shown by your colleagues or staff members upon your taking office on the city council that you care to mention?

Robinson
Not visibly, but you have to understand that even today, as late as day before yesterday, I understand that people who work up there—secretaries and the like—say things like, they’re tired of this blank—my secretary and all of her friends—that they’re just sick of these blanks in the building. That hurts. That was as late as Wednesday of this week. I have no reason, from which the source of this information came, to doubt it. The council, to a man, has been very fair and very hospitable to my wife and me.

Interviewer
Were there any particular courtesies shown by council and staff that you consider significant?

Robinson
No, I would have been most disturbed had they shown me some. I think I would have been more disappointed had they treated me kind of special and different. I knew most of them, had known them for a long, long time in a lot of other areas of community involvement. If you remember, I used to always wonder why I’d never see these guys in all these organizations, clubs, and things around the city. I’d see them at a ballgame or at a groundbreaking or some kind of dedication ceremony or something like that. I knew them all pretty well, I think.

Interviewer
You made a comment earlier, I think, on Mr Frank Mann. It has been said that he took you under his wing as a new councilman. Would you care to comment on this?

Robinson
1:16:12.7 Yeah. As you know, there are some 29 department heads. Unfortunately, I’m at my business a lot more time than I am at city hall. Frank Mann has been in and out of city government since about 1937. He knows most of the things that are going on down there. We felt it important that a black have a wrecker permit. And through Mr Mann’s efforts, a black got a wrecker permit. I could have gone in as I did— I tried twice. The first time I went in blowing like we ought to have one. It’s right. We don’t have any. The man was voted out before we ever got to council. The second time we went to Mr Mann and said, “This man ought to have a wrecker permit. He’s in business. He sells used cars, new cars. He has a repair shop that does this and does that.” And Mr Mann made the kind of connections that you have to make in this kind of business to get the job done. He has been very kind in helping me in a lot of areas, especially with parks and park improvements. Frank Mann is a politician, probably the strongest politician and strongest campaigner than I’ve ever seen. He understands dramatically that this neighborhood now is about 400,000 black and getting bigger. He has always, to me, exercised an opinion that he’s for the working man. So many of our people are out there, we kept him from having a run-off this last time. I don’t mean me personally; I mean black people. He carried more black precincts this last time than he has ever done in the 30-odd years he’s been in government.

Interviewer
In 1969, Councilman, you were advocating councilmen be elected by district. Did your position change on this in ’71, and has it been modified or changed today?

Robinson
Yeah. I’ll tell you what; I like the idea of a councilman coming from a district. The ideology is very good. The thing that I worry about is that there are so many things that are wrong on the Northside that I represent. There are so many things that I’m trying to do to help improve the lifestyles and conditions of the people in Northside. If we go back to councilmen by district, where just the person from that particular district—and believe me, we have people on council like that right now. We have a couple of people on council who take the popular position rather than the position that’s right—whether it’s on a telephone rate increase, whether it’s on light cost increase, whether it’s on something that deals with the firemen or policemen or what. They’ll always take the safe vote, and that’s a negative vote. They have privileged information about, for example, these utilities could go to court and get what they’re asking for and more, that these improvements are needed in order for the service to improve, that we need more firemen and we need more policemen and we need to look in other areas. We have to sometimes bite the bullet. We have two councilmen who never bite the bullet. They’re always voting for—you know—to be negative. In that category, I’ve changed my mind.

Interviewer
1:20:17.2 Do you care to mention who the two people are?

Robinson
No, I really do not, in fairness to them.

Interviewer
Once on the council, you addressed yourself to numerous issues. One in particular was the garbage workers’ strike. Could you comment on this?

Robinson
I think they’re the most mistreated, kind of accepted-through-the-back-door city employees that we have. They are still, as you know, on a day-to-day basis—they’re not under the Civil Service umbrella. They work what we call a route. They work just like people worked 50 years ago in slavery, before integration. They have no body or no law or no union to protect the individual. They go out there and they’re at the mercy of whoever is there—the foreman, the little lady who works in the office or whoever it is. If this person has had a bad night or had a bad day and doesn’t feel like being courteous or nice or concerned or helpful to this poor little guy, then he gets it in the neck. I think these people ought to be given the same kind of courtesies as the firemen and the policemen, because you can remember just 2 weeks ago they struck one day. It had more effect on the City of Houston than the firemen could have in a month. They are very visible. So I feel very strongly about the garbage workers. Nobody has ever really taken those people’s plights to heart. I was telling Mayor Welch 3 years ago, when I went on council, you’ve got serious problems with this. These people are dehumanized. They’re on the back of these trucks all day. They don’t have adequate shower facilities. They don’t have uniforms. They don’t have good equipment to work with. They don’t have this or that. They don’t have a chance for advancement. It’s a kind of pick-your-friend type of arrangement for promotions and stuff. It’s the plantation kind of expanded to solid waste. We fought it. I’m very happy to say that now Solid Waste has its own maintenance department. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s very important. A guy goes out in a truck and the breaks don’t work, a guy goes out in a truck and the lift on the back of the dump truck doesn’t work, a guy riding on a flat—I’ve seen all of these things. They were gathered in the morning like cattle, like slaves were in the old days. They all stand around. Not those on regular crews, but those wanting to be hired. And somebody just picks them up. That’s his cousin. That’s his brother. That’s the way people are hired. I think that’s bad. I think they ought to be under Civil Service. I think they ought to have uniforms. I think they ought to have decent areas for changing clothes. They ought to have good medical facilities for those people. Those guys have smells that get in their skin and their skin pigmentation. You can’t wash it out. These are very serious health—and the manliness that’s taken out of the guy.

Interviewer
1:23:53.3 What do you think is the reason that you have not been able to, in 3 years, get some positive, definitive actions on these from fellow councilmen?

Robinson
Because until the strike this past 3 weeks, these people thought I was just blowing smoke. They just thought I was using that as an issue to gain some kind of notoriety out of it, but I never was. I’d go out and meet those men at 6:00 in the morning and visit all of the sites where they congregate and stuff. It’s pretty tough.

Interviewer
Some of the other issues that you were confronted with and faced head on were minority help that was doing business with the city, such as our subcontractors, etc… Can you tell us something about this?

Robinson
Very disappointed in that. The city has to issue this thing of equal opportunities as far as employment, and all the people that do business with the city have to agree to the concept that they’ll hire based on qualifications and not race. But I know that program hasn’t worked, because the same people that I see every Wednesday for the last 3 years coming in—general and subcontractors on these various jobs that we read the results of bids on every Wednesday—I’m seeing no real impressionable changes in those areas. In professional areas—architects, engineers, like that—there have been some sprinkling of success, but the guy on the job, the guy who could be a foreman, and the guy who could be a craft, I think we missed the boat there. I’ve been a little disappointed in our present administration about taking a more active position.

Interviewer
1:25:55.5 What about including recreational facilities, the idea of a downtown sports arena? I think you were involved in those early days.

Robinson
Well, number one, I had always supported the idea of a downtown facility. What changed my mind is that there was no facility owned by the city at that time that could accommodate the facility. You see, what happened is that it became a political deal with people like Brown & Root, people like Greenway Plaza, by Century Development. These men became so incensed with one’s thoughts over the other that the city’s best interest was kind of set aside. So Louis Welch formed a committee of all the department heads to be involved, and after all the things were done—parking, location, accessibility, traffic, tying up downtown, and so forth—I had to vote for Greenway because I only had one other place to vote for. They either put it over the bayou, behind the Coliseum, across from what they call the Fire Alarm Building or nowhere else. If they’d given us a choice of downtown locations, anywhere—it could have been on Washington Avenue or anywhere—I would have been able to vote for it. But we only had 2 places to vote for. The public didn’t know that. We had black people that would come down and say, “How are we going to get out to Greenway Plaza?” I’d say, “How do you get to the Astrodome?” “Well, that’s different.” Well, how are you going to get over to a facility, have no parking, no accessibility? How are you going to do that? So it took a little bit of doing, but people that I respected, like Moses Leroy and people like Quentin Mease and people like that finally understood what it is that we were talking about. I only had a choice of 2 places. So I need to go Greenway or go across the bayou, next to the Fire Alarm Building, by a fire station that was already overloaded.

Interviewer
All right, if I’m not mistaken, you served on a committee that was to check into possible locations. Are you telling me that—?

Robinson
We were given no other locations.

Interviewer
So your input there—

Robinson
1:28:39.5 It was very limited. You see, the downtown people said, “Okay, we don’t care where you put it, but put it downtown.” We said, “All right. Give us a location, anywhere, just some place.” I had always supported the idea of downtown. I still do. But I think that Century Development and the people who like hockey and stuff like that are going to make this (inaudible).

Interviewer
Let’s go back a little bit and go forward. What positions have you taken on the continued complaints from citizens that there is an existence of police brutality in our police force today?

Robinson
I don’t doubt it at all. The problem is— We had the gentleman in the other day that I respect, Mr Russell Hayes. He came in and told me, before council, that I had to be more visible when it came to problems with black people in relation to the police department. I took all the information that Mr Hayes gave me with the understanding that some black law firm was going to be in contact with us that day or the next day or the next day. And while Mr Hayes was appearing before council—the chief of police, Chief Lynn—we could not find anything related to the incident as it was described it happened—the name of the person being violated or any kind of record associated with the incident as Mr Hayes described it. Now, I’m not saying that Mr Hayes doesn’t have all the information. I’m sure that he does. But you have to understand that for every case that you hear about police brutality, in some instances there is the other side. And if you want to really be fair—if you want to hear both sides—

1:30:51.1 Let me give you one case in point. I (inaudible) claimed his poor brother had been beat up by 2 black officers. He told me all about it. I was incensed that people would do that, especially blacks doing it to each other. And he told me how they had kicked him and choked him and threw him in the car and all that stuff. But he didn’t tell me about biting the policeman’s finger off. He didn’t tell me about kicking one. He didn’t tell me about the wife throwing this acid-like stuff in this guy’s eyes. I didn’t get that until I read the report and saw the officers. So I’ve had to learn, unfortunately, that before I jump I want to have all the facts, because if you don’t have them all, then you aren’t going to do the kind of effective job that you have to do. But I think that unfortunately, still, the great majority of complaints, from blacks and whites, pertaining to police brutality are true.

Interviewer
1:32:03.9 The type of investigative technique that is being used today, I think these complaints are referred to a grand jury. This was not your original hope. Can you tell us something about that?

Robinson
Okay, originally what we had hoped for is that the city legal department would assign a person in the city legal department to investigate a complaint by a citizen against the police department. I thought it was inappropriate for the police department to make these investigations, because how do you investigate yourself? It’s very difficult to do. How can you be critical and honest with yourself? It’s hard for anybody to do. That concerned me. Then, by the time we got it worked out to where the council was in agreement to taking it out of the hands of the police and giving it to the city legal department, I learned that we don’t have enough people in our legal department to take the time to make the kinds of investigations timely enough to get some justifiable effect. So they have all these grand juries going on, and they have staff, they have people, and they have the power to subpoena and they can do this and do that. They’ve gone with that. That has turned into a fiasco. We have not had one person that we referred to the grand jury that (inaudible).

Interviewer
What about the Citizen’s Review Board that was suggested?

Robinson
I thought that was the greatest thing that we could do. The flack came from the police department themselves. They are very uptight still, even with Chief Williams, of citizens reviewing the activities of the police department.

Interviewer
What about Mayor Welch’s position on the Citizen’s Review Board? Do you recall that?

Robinson
Yes, very much so. He said they couldn’t subpoena. They didn’t have any money. They couldn’t make thorough investigations. He thought it was a waste of time.
Interviewer
If I’m not mistaken, Mayor Welch completely rejected this idea. He said that it was completely unheard of. He would not be bothered at all.

Robinson
That’s correct.

Interviewer
1:34:28.4 Now, you were also involved in recruitment programs to assist in getting more minorities on our police force. Can you tell us something about that work?

Robinson
Yes. It was a very poor effort, very poorly organized. Just because you have a black, brown, and white officer in uniform and just because you have the blessings of the black city councilman, it does not mean that you’ve done anything to improve the image or you’ve done anything to show that you’re going to change the attitude of the police department. It was a fiasco. It was very poorly planned. We had no real incentive programs to encourage blacks and browns to join the force. I remember going over to Texas Southern. I was on the Board of Regents at that time, at TSU, and doing pretty well with the students. They were very hostile with the policemen and to me because we had been the same people, according to them, that had been on campus in 1967 and shot it up. They’re doing a much better job now.

Interviewer
Can you comment on the speech that caused a great deal of controversy in the Houston community in which you stated that Chief Short was a sincere and dedicated man who does not deserve the image he has?

Robinson
Yes. Let me tell you, I’ll never forget this. I told you about, when I went on council, how I’d go places and it was like, “We did it,” sentiment with the people. And I enjoyed that kind of identity because I felt that it was the people’s action and that they had put their boy in and he was doing all right and was going to do a good job. There is a guy who works at the Houston Chronicle. His name is Gayle McNutt. Gayle was a guy that I think I underestimated. He was a reporter first then a friend second. And you can imagine, when I went on council, I was invited almost everywhere. I enjoyed it; I really did. I liked going places and seeing people. They wanted to see the black man who was elected. It was strange. Gayle was the president of the group of newscasters and reporters, things like that. He had written some stories during the campaign that were very complimentary. I thought it had some measure of influence in being accepted by white people. So finally, after I guess 3 or 4 times where I had to just, at the last minute, beg off because I was just too busy to do it, I’d been on council about 9 weeks—6 weeks. I spoke at Herbert’s Restaurant, right on San Jacinto. I was real upset and kind of uptight about the press at that time because they had just run a story, front page of the Post, about a black innocent that had been shot and killed opening up a (??), right here on Dowling. If you read any kind of exposure at all, you knew he was a black guy. He had the big boot on, he had the flared pants, and he had the big hat.

1:38:53.4 (end of audio 01)

Robinson
0:00:12.9 I was asked to speak, and in my remarks I was very critical about the press and how they capitalized and how they kind of rape blacks as far as news coverage is concerned. Then I opened up a question and answer period. I have to say there were blacks there, but most radio stations were (inaudible; noise on audio). The first question was, “Well, you were very close to CGS. How do you feel about that they’re all minority?” And I told them that I thought they were sincere people that worked hard and that they deserved the opportunity to be given a chance to succeed. Then the next question was, “Well, what do you think about the council? You’ve always been so critical of the council about not being visible and not being involved.” I said, “These are sincere men. I think that I’ve just been down there 6 weeks. I’ve got to get to know them, and they’ve got to get to know me.” “Well, Jud, what do you think about Short?” And here’s what I said: “Chief Short is a sincere, dedicated, tough cop, but he plays a role. The kind of role that he plays, we don’t need it in Houston, Texas.” That’s what I said. No comment. Nobody gets up and runs to the telephone. It was a putdown. So the questions go on, and as I remember, the real controversial question was why I didn’t help Fred. When I won, Fred didn’t win, and why didn’t I help him. That was the big thing. I was backed up into a spot. The next day I’m at the council meeting. The secretary comes upstairs. (inaudible) I can’t believe it. The headline was “Robinson says Short is sincere and dedicated.” If the people that wrote this paper had said exactly what I said, the whole thing— What the people did is they read the part where I said he was sincere and dedicated and that’s all they read. I got home and said, “I know nobody is going to believe that.” I got home and the telephone started ringing. It was people that I loved and thought loved me. Friday night I go to a football game, and people are very cold and hostile to me. My children came home from school crying because kids were calling them Short-lover and all this stuff. I couldn’t believe it. So I called Gale up and said, “What happened?” He said, “Jud, somebody took out of context what you said.” I said, “All right. Straighten it out. Straighten it out in tomorrow’s editorial.” And he did. Nobody saw it. Nobody commented on it. (inaudible) All right. Then I’m very close to the fall term. (inaudible) Perhaps you can tell them the truth. He said, “Oh, don’t worry about that.” (inaudible) They ran the story. They were supposed to be getting on-the-street interviews from citizens about what I said. Their guy, whose last name was Robinson— As I started to read it, it was funny; I had to laugh. But then I got to Robinson, and Robinson said in his remarks that he was very disappointed that he used to use the name of Robinson. He was going and getting his drinks free and telling people he was kin to my father and me, but after my statement on Short, he was ashamed to tell people his name. Well, I felt so bad about that. I’m in the real estate business. (inaudible) So I looked up Mr Robinson. I got his address. No such address. No such person at that address. I said, “Well, maybe Mr Robinson moves around a lot. I called my friends at the utilities companies. I called the light company, no Robinson. I called the telephone company, no Robinson. I called water, gas—no Robinson. I found out later—much later—the guy who wrote the article told me that he made those things up that people had supposedly said. That was typical for me. I went through a time when I was really ready to resign from council because it had an effect on my business, my children, on me. It took me all through Barbara’s campaign, because if you remember Curtis used that against an attack on Barbara—that Barbara and I were system people. The system had elected us. When Barbara won, (inaudible), that’s when I felt I had a chance. I have people that tell me, “Jud, I know you had to say what you said about Short. We’re all with you.” So I just say, “Thank you.” How do you explain political assassination?

Marchiafava
0:06:48.2 That must be extremely frustrating?

Robinson
Oh, God, it’s terrible. I used to go places, especially over at TSU, especially after I was on the board there. I’d try and meet as many as the political science law majors as I could meet. Always I start off by saying, “Now, let me tell you what happened, because we’ll understand each other.” I never had Short come up to me and say, “Hey, thanks for that.” He read the damn thing—what I said. All they had to do was run the whole story. It was a putdown. But you’ve got to remember—he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, supposed to be all these good ol’ things anyway. He doesn’t have big hang ups about whites and blacks and stuff. The police have never done anything to him. So it took a long time. I was very bitter about that for a long time. I don’t worry about that anymore, but it’s unfortunate that something like that came about, because I think I could have been a bigger, more effective voice in the community for blacks than I was on the city level. You see, the whites saw that. They were amazed. They could not believe it. One day, the council received word that the Harris County Council of Organizations was coming now en mass to eat me up about what I didn’t say.

Interviewer
0:08:45.0 During your first term, a question of a Model Cities hiring of a man by the name of Mr del Rio(?). You were, I think, opposed in the beginning. Can you explain this?

Robinson
I thought that Model Cities, just by its makeup—because the area was predominantly black—that there ought to be qualified black people from the community of the Houston area able to come in and administer the program. The program had all kinds of problems. It had some poor directors and this and that. I had nothing against Mr del Rio(?). I had nothing against Mexican Americans. I just thought that since it was a black-sponsor-type program, that perhaps we could find a black to do it. The reason I dropped it was because I got no response from blacks—nobody. I was very disappointed. It was in the paper saying it was a racial issue. I wasn’t talking about race. I was talking about a program that happens to be predominantly black could also be effectively run by a black. It was nothing big. I wasn’t trying to get rid of Mr del Rio. I was just expressing an opinion. But then the media gets it, and they’re going to make it brown against black. So when we got no response, we just backed off.

Interviewer
During this time, also, there were problems with the fire department. Some of the firemen—the union—that they came directly to you for help. Can you further explain?

Robinson
0:10:30.3 Yes. I think the firemen today, unfortunately, are probably some of the most emotional city employees that we have. I think that in a lot of instances they are very poorly directed, and I think that they are systematically used by politicians for whatever the reason may be. What disturbed me so much was that I was one of eight people who voted against collective bargaining. Not that I had anything against collective bargaining as such, but personally being black and knowing what labor has done in the black community and citywide. That was not my intention. I just felt that that was not the area where collective bargaining ought to take place, and I signed a petition to that effect. I was one of eight out of nine that signed it. I got threatening calls at my house. I had people calling me all kind of names. I got almost 400 letters. I think the reason that I got them is that because I’m black. They assume that because I am black that I ought to automatically be considered on their team. I was not on their team. I know what our firemen make. I know the number of fires that they are called on a year. I know the amount of effort that they have to put forth to make sorting out 11,000 a year for them. That’s a lot of money.

Interviewer
0:12:09.9 The freeway issue came up concerning the Gulf Freeway that was to be extended, and also in the South Park area they were supposed to get a parkway. Can you tell us something about your involvement here?

Robinson
I thought that we needed a platform or a sounding board where the people’s positions in the community, who would be most effective, be given a chance to air their positions under a condition of their choosing. When the highway people would call for a hearing, they would select the location and they’d set the format and they’d have the speakers and they pretty much controlled the meeting. I understand that. I understand blacks’ sort of reluctance—whether it’s at the high school gym or at the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church—under those conditions to go and to express themselves, because they felt that the situation was just cut and dry. My whole intent and purpose was to give them a platform from which to speak where they controlled and they could explain and they could have explained to them, under their terms and their conditions, what was going on. I felt that unfortunately for the citizens—especially those affected by the Gulf Freeway—I felt most sincerely sorry for those people—but unfortunately the big percentage of them were not homeowners. They were not the property owners and the property owners, all they wanted the people to do was tell them they were going to buy a dilapidated, run-down property, and they were the ones who sold us down the river. Had we been able to get the property owners to support us in our efforts with the Gulf Freeway, I don’t know if we would have been able to stop it, but I think we would have been able to deter it for a long period of time. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that.

Interviewer
Had the situation been different in the South Park area?

Robinson
I think so. That’s Highway 35. I think that the people out there are a little bit better organized. Many of them are homeowners on either side of the park. I think that the alternate routes are now being suggested to them. I have not followed that in the last 7 or 8 months because they have real good organization—community organization—the people. That’s a whole lot more effective than a councilman or a mayor or somebody who is using it as a political tool. I haven’t pursued that.

Interviewer
0:15:01.3 Are there any particular issues that I have not mentioned that you would like to speak on that you were involved in that did not get into the news media during that first term of office?

Robinson
Yeah. I think that most of the things— You see, unfortunately— I’m a businessman, and I understand about bargaining—giving and taking. A lot of the real significant things that I think need a conscious were not headline items, but significant. We have a black pro out in MacGregor Park. That’s important. We have a black tennis pro. He runs that park. He sets the tone. He sets the direction. That was through some sitting down and us reasoning together. We have a black golf pro not through Davis and people like that out there screaming, but through continuing and active—

Interviewer
Can you name these people for us?

Robinson
Oh, gosh. I wish that I could, but they are all on there full-time. They’re all pros. I don’t know the young people’s names, but one is in golf. He has our new Sunnyside Golf Course that will be opening soon. He’s already on as the pro. And the other is at MacGregor as the tennis pro.

Interviewer
Are there any other significant achievements that you would like to comment on that you were able to institute or get?

 

Robinson
Oh, I take great pride in the fact that we’ve opened 3 libraries in our area. And when I say “our area,” I don’t mean Northside; I mean our area, like Lottie Branch Library(?)—I think that’s very important—Pleasantville Library, the McCrane-Kashmere Gardens Library, right off of—I can’t think of the street. Yes, off of Lockwood. I think the fact that we have a black policeman on a 2-wheeler—that may not sound like much. This is a black guy who was put into this elite corps. These guys make $15,000 and $20,000 a year. Did you know that? These guys make upwards of $20,000 a year on a motorcycle, doing funerals and wakes and meeting some piece of equipment through town. I take great pride in the fact that the Houston police now have a black sergeant. These things just didn’t happen. This man was on a list of 30. He was number 24. And if this list expired, then he wouldn’t get it. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we have a black man who has a license to go on that freeway and pick up your wrecked car. That license that he has, that he’s paying $25 or $50 for, they sell on the open market anywhere from $12,000-$25,000 a year. I take great pride in the fact that my secretary, Grace, is down there and that the black woman can be seen as a person who is not necessarily of raising cane and this and that, but who is in her own effective way bringing some dignity and some respect to her people. So those are far more important to me than being controversial. I don’t like the role of being controversial. I like better the role of being constructive. That’s the role I try to play.

Marchiafava
0:19:08.1 How would you describe black leadership in Houston?

Robinson
Houston is the luckiest city in the world. I think that we have more black leadership than any other city, probably with the exception of Atlanta, than any other major city in the country. Now, by black leadership, you’ve got to understand I’m not talking about people elected to office. I don’t mean the councilman or a legislator or a Judge Jefferson. I don’t mean those people, but I mean them too. But I think about the Reverend Branches and the Reverend Prices and the Jimmy Jimesons and the Quentin Meases and the Judson Srs and the Jimmy Middletons. These are the people who kept this town conversational, where the various sections are still talking. These are the cats that did it.

Interviewer
Could you briefly, in a very short statement, respond to the following people—your impressions of the following people? Mayor Welch.
Robinson
Welch unfortunately was a victim of the people working around him. Jack Cook and Short did more to hurt him than anybody else.

Interviewer
0:20:33.1 Chief Short.

Robinson
A very limited man who had no real feeling, I understand, of blacks and their plight.

Interviewer
Former Councilman Gottlieb.

Robinson
A very nice person but lacking the leadership one would have to have to be mayor.

Interviewer
Civil Service Commissioner Al Hendron(?).

Robinson
Al is one of the most dynamic and important black men that we have in this city.

Interviewer
Sheriff Heard.

Robinson
Strong, very good for the city, years ahead of his time when he was chief of police.

Interviewer
Mr Bowser.

Robinson
Bowser, without a doubt, is one of the strongest department heads that we have in the city.

Interviewer
Judge Jefferson.

Robinson
0:21:30.7 Strong. I can’t say enough about the judge. I wish that we had a congressional district or a part in the State of Texas. We could send him to Washington. He’s that strong.

Interviewer
Would you care to comment on any of our municipal judges, black or white?

Robinson
Tom Riley(?) is one of the most articulate and fine people that I know. I’m very pleased to see the progress that Judge Ramirez is making, that Judge Peavy is making. Judge Ramirez is a Mexican-American judge.

Interviewer
Is there any particular project or problem that you were faced with while on the council that you consider the most significant positive that you yourself have made?

Robinson
I think my relationship and involvement with the Solid Waste Department—the garbage collectors. I hope that by the time I go off council, which might be this term, I’d like to see them under the Civil Service umbrella.

Interviewer
Very quickly, how would you describe your first term of office, in a few sentences?

Robinson
Stormy and misunderstood, frustrating and rewarding, sad and disappointing.

Interviewer
In the 1973 election you ran unopposed for the position of District B. Did this have any specific meaning or interpretation?

Robinson
Of the 20-odd people running for office, I was the only one unopposed. I looked at it this way: There are people prepared and willing to give me a chance to do the job—that they thought that I could do it. The white community was taking a wait-and-see attitude. I took it like that and understood it like that.

Interviewer
0:24:00.9 What reason, that you know of, caused the federal limitations to go into effect in regard to the curb on getting information from the police department?

Robinson
I think the police department is on a very serious course of trying to withhold information that ought to be made available to the citizens. They were reacting from an interpretation of the law by John (??), which was very poorly interpreted. I would like to see that thing turned around.

Interviewer
You and other councilman have complained that many a project or referrals of complaint are not accurately reported in the sense that you never get reports back. Has the situation improved?

Robinson
Somewhat, with our new administration, but we have a long way to go. You see, you have to understand that you have department heads that have been over there in their various departments for a long time. They realize that councilmen are legislative only. We have no administrative powers, and they treat us that way. The mayor of Houston is the strongest man in the world. He’s stronger than Daley or our new mayor in New York or Tom Bradley out in California or Mayor Jackson in Atlanta. He is the strongest mayor of any mayor. He has more power than anybody.

Marchiafava
How?

Robinson
In hiring and firing and appointing department heads. All we can do is turn yea or nay against his selections for department heads. He makes all the decisions. We cannot go to a department head and say, “Hey, you’ve got to get on the ball or we’re going to get you out of here.” They know we can’t do that. We can say, “Mayor, old So-and-So isn’t working with us. We need you to help us.” But old So-and-So might be working with the mayor. So there’s conflict.

Marchiafava
0:26:15.5 You disapprove of this.

Robinson
Oh, I wish that we had some administrative powers. I wish that we had— I would like for just one term to have the kind of control that a commissioner has—county commissioner. If I ever run for public office again, that’s what I go at. That’s where you’ve got power. Councilman, legislative—it’s tough.

Interviewer
There has been publicity recently about the issue of the rehabilitation program and with (??). Can you tell us what your response to this is?

Robinson
Yeah, I thought that (??) Davis, first of all, did not tell the truth. In his application to us he said that he would have no involvement himself as to the staffing, management, or direction of the facility. But when you read the application, he’s down as a director for $15,500 a year. I just thought that was a tool put in his hand, that would be another political term, and I thought it would just take advantage of the people that they were trying to help. I like the idea. In fact, we helped Sonny Wells(?) get his application in. He was a good man, doing a tremendous job, who would be apolitical. I think he would have done the job.

Interviewer
During the 1973 campaign, you addressed yourself to mass transit, environmental improvement, taxation, etc… Was there a significant reason for this?

Robinson
Yeah, because I think that if we’re going to really get a job done, we’ve got to have an overview of the total problem. And the total problem affecting our people at this point, in addition to bad streets, is of course transportation. And number two is our environment and the conditions that our people live in. When I say environment, I’m not talking about just the air that we breathe or the water that we drink, I’m talking about the healthcare facilities. I’m talking about the fact that our young people go to school every morning. All of these other things are so important to one’s environment, and I thought that overview was more significant than me just taking a personal view about streets. I’d much rather talk about the significance of transportation and giving people an opportunity to inexpensively but safely be able to move from one area to another and hope, from that kind of experience, gain some kind of exposure that perhaps they would not have had a chance to gain normally. So that was my reasoning.

Interviewer
0:29:17.5 The hiring of minorities has always been an issue which you have dealt with. Can you tell if you feel there has been commitment to projects in this area and at what particular level do you feel that there is greater need?

Robinson
I think that Vince Rochelle(?), our Civil Service Director, is a very dynamic, very imaginative man. What we’re trying to do right now is to really see the services and that the people in administration now are really as concerned about the people in there being able to be moved forward based upon qualifications alone rather than anything else. I think to have a man like Mr Rochelle in that seat is very important. I think we need more management-type people around and in the city government, people who report their needs from various departments directly to Mr Rochelle. We are making significant progress there.

Interviewer
Are you making progress in the decision-making levels as far as minorities are concerned?

Robinson
I think that we are. I think Vince Rochelle(?), Palmer Bowser—these are the department heads—they are developing people around them who are making decisions. You’ve got to remember that a lot of the city’s budget is almost $14 million attended by a black man. We’re coming there.

Interviewer
How do you respond to the fact that when you have a black at the very top level we cannot effectively get many other minorities hired under him because (inaudible)?

 

Robinson
Well, then I blame him. At Robinson and Sons we have over 200 employees. I take great pride in the fact that I get a chance to know and meet 99 percent of the people who work for us. Whether it’s somebody wrapping a hamburger or the young men that clean up the building at night, I know who they are.

Interviewer
0:31:38.8 I have mentioned very briefly some of the issues that have come up in ’74. One that is currently on the floor of the council, I think, is the Mayor’s Code of Ethics. Can you respond to this?

Robinson
I think it’s a good idea. The thing that concerns me about it is that I, in my relationships, represent a lot of people. For example, in the purchase of radio station KCOH, I represent 4 or 5 people. If it means—and I’ve already been advised by these people—if it means disclosing their relationship in the deal, and it had nothing to do with City Hall, they might back out. I’m concerned about that. I have no objections to showing mine. It ain’t no big thing. I’m concerned about the people that I represent in some areas. I remember we put a supermarket together one time. There were a lot of people in the supermarket. Fortunately for us the government bought it and put a post office there or we would have gone broke, but there were a lot of people involved who were doing it for a lot of reasons—helping blacks and all this other stuff. I think the idea of an ethics code is good, as long as we are dealing with the individual. But do I have to disclose things that have nothing to do with City Hall or city government that might affect a deal that I’m working on, on some other level? Then I’m concerned about it. But if the majority of council decides that’s the way we’re going to do it, then that’s the way I’m going to do it too.

Interviewer
Are there any other issues, Mr Robinson, that have come up in 1974 that you have been involved in that did not reach the media?

Robinson
Oh, I think so. I think that we all worked very hard with the firemen and trying to resolve their problems. We all worked very hard with our solid waste people and tried to get them the equipment and materials that they need in order to work, and upgrading and advancing black men and women and women period. And I guess my number-one project this time around is Parks and Recreation. This is just fighting a losing battle. I’m not encouraged at all with what I see as far as Parks and Recreation is concerned.

Interviewer
What type of communications do you now have with the people in your district? Do you have an office?

Robinson
0:34:23.2 No, I don’t. I wish that I did. We don’t have the money for that kind of direct communication, but I am almost always available to the people. I don’t wait on them to call me, I call them. We stay pretty busy in our district.

Interviewer
Are there many different political coalitions on the council?

Robinson
Yes. There are liberal democrats in one, and the Republican Party is definitely in it. You have the conservative element, even on the council. The people of the conservative persuasion are interested in government-run factors. Then you have those that I identify with, or try to, a more liberal, progressive citizen.

Interviewer
Can you briefly comment on Harris County Council Organizations or input that you have with them on the community overall?

Robinson
They are a very strong organization. I’d like to think that I have a very good relationship with them.

Interviewer
How do you respond to the comment that you are an establishment-type black councilman?

Robinson
(Laughs) I guess I have to accept that because I have been in business all of my life. I don’t know any other way to do it but by bargaining and giving and taking.
Interviewer
During your time on the council, has there been any favoritism shown in granting contracts, that you are aware of?

Robinson
0:36:24.7 I wish that there were. We have a lot of people, especially in the black community and brown community, that I’d like to see on more city projects. But unfortunately, no, I do not see that.

Interviewer
Have you been successful in getting a clause written into the hiring policy to bar all types of discrimination?

Robinson
Yeah, we’ve got it, but there’s very little implementation even today.

Interviewer
Because of your real estate connections, have pressures ever been exerted on you as a councilman either in awarding contracts or property purchases by the city?

Robinson
No, never.

Interviewer
What about other councilmen?

Robinson
I don’t think so. You have to remember that they’re legislative only. They can’t set a program in rhythm. Somebody else has to do it. I cannot think of any. I look at good guys like (??) who is fighting back from declaring bankruptcy, guys like (??), who is a very successful builder but has just struggled to stay going, people like me just trying to stay going. I have not seen where the council has brought about any financial remuneration for my efforts. I wish they had, but I haven’t had it.

Interviewer
This is off the record, but how would you respond to the fact that Former Mayor Welch came into office a very lower-middle-class type and leaves a millionaire?

Robinson
0:38:01.9 That’s not true. Louis Welch was probably in very good shape prior to the Sharpstown transaction. That really— To my knowledge, he owes the government some $900,000, almost a million dollars. See, in the Sharpstown bank transaction, he had a note there. He had bought some stock, and the idea was that that stock was supposed to, sometime in the years to come, pay him a good reward. And each year he would gestate interest on that note, I understand, and not reduce the (inaudible). So it’s about a $900,000 note. That’s the reason he went from city government to the Chamber of Commerce. He went from $20,000 to $60,000 a year to try and pay his bills.

Interviewer
Do you think you are receiving as much cooperation from your colleagues in getting support for programs as some of the others are?

Robinson
Yeah, because you have to understand that the councilmen in our district, those guys get a lot of support—the councilmen at large. They usually leave it up to us to institute action or an objective.

Interviewer
What difference in leadership abilities can you define for us in regards to Former Mayor Welch and today’s mayor, Mayor Hofheinz?

Robinson
Oh, I think that Louis Welch was a better mayor as far as the council was concerned and his relationship with the council. You have to understand, he came from a councilman’s position, so the back slapping, the open door policy, always being available, this kind of thing, whereas with Mayor Hofheinz it’s still a learning process. So I’d say give him 12 years like you gave Louis, and I think he’d be as good with the council as anybody, maybe in 3 years.

Interviewer
What is your opinion of Mayor Hofheinz?

Robinson
I think he’s a charming, lovely, sweet guy, who has some very poor people around him that give him very poor directions.

Interviewer
Chief Lynn?

Robinson
0:40:23.9 Weak.

Interviewer
Chief Cook?

Robinson
I don’t really know Cook at all. I know that during his administration, blacks moved up in fairly good numbers in promotions. I don’t know anything about him.

Marchiafava
You described Lynn as weak. How do you mean that?

Robinson
I think that he has very weak people around him. I think that he has people around him who have had more experience in police work than he’s had, who take advantage of their relationship with him to misdirect him. I think he’s got to get those people out. I think that he’d be a good chief.

Interviewer
Attorney Carol Vance?

Robinson
I knew Carol very well. I don’t know him on the political end of it. I’ve never worked closely with him except for one time on a grand jury. I find him to be fair.

Interviewer
Lionel Castillo?

Robinson
0:41:22.0 A good man, very outspoken. I don’t always agree with him, but I admire him for his guts.

Interviewer
Mr Clurey(?) Marshall?

Robinson
I think Clurey serves a purpose.

Interviewer
At one time you sat on the Texas Board of Corrections. This appointment was withdrawn. Can you explain the events and circumstances that caused this withdrawal and whatever else you’d like to comment on?

Robinson
Unfortunately the State of Texas constitution prohibits a person to serve on two municipal boards. And being a city elected official, I’m paid $300 a month, and being on the board of the prison system, I think we get paid a travel and per diem. I forgot how much, like $20 a month. You can’t do them both. It’s against the law. So I was very disappointed that I was unable to do it, but I have been so happy on the TSU board. That’s the most exciting board that I’ve ever served on. I enjoy it. So I’m glad to be there.

Interviewer
How do you view the political future regarding getting more blacks on the city council or other elected positions?

Robinson
Strong, very strong—very, very strong. I think the City of Houston, through people like Barbara and people like Judge Jefferson, people like Judge Peavy and people like that—our legislators—they’ve gone in and, in a lot of instances, done a good job. They haven’t done just a good job for blacks; they’ve done a good job for everybody.
Interviewer
A major topic in most large cities today seems to be federal regulations. Can you give us your comments on this?

Robinson
0:43:19.8 I’d like to see the city having a lot of control, and I don’t mean just the mayor. I’d like the councilmen to have some control. I’d really like to see it put back into Social Services.

Interviewer
What particular awards have you received in the City of Houston that you consider perhaps a treasure to you?

Robinson
Oh, yes. Sometime you come out to the house and I’ll be happy to— I’ve been very fortunate in that area. I guess I must have found some 29 awards. (inaudible) I think the one I treasure most is one given to me by a group of young people in an elementary school in Sunnyside, as one of their outstanding citizens. I’ve been the Omega Man of the Year, and I’ve been the Citizen of the Year, all those great things. I’ve enjoyed them, but I enjoyed that one the most. They made it themselves and painted it and spelled my name wrong, which is even better.

Interviewer
Does there exist any type of cooperative communication between you and other minority legislators, both on the state, national, and local levels? Is it organized?

Robinson
Yes. I talked to the mayor of Atlanta the other night. The National Elected Black Officials Association is meeting here in Houston on December 1-4, along with all the other nationally elected people. The mayor is in my fraternity. This organization, like so many others, doesn’t have any money. So here is a line of people that I’m working on right now through his efforts: Gladys Knight and the Pips, Diane Hathaway, and Roberta Flack—all 3, one night. We’re working on that for Houston. I think we’re going to get it. So yes, we have black organizations, very well organized, all of them.

Interviewer
Are these organizations effective as far as getting a positive position taken in their communities?
Robinson
Yes, they really are, very much.

Interviewer
0:45:54.9 You served on the Texas Constitutional Revision Committee, and this particular committee was to sort of offer up a viable constitution. What is your response?

Robinson
I was very disappointed when the legislature was not able to come up with some kind of compromise for a constitution that’s terribly overworked. There were some very good things, especially dealing with education, that I thought we should add.

Interviewer
What is your response to the fact that there may be cliques or factions on the council?

Robinson
There’s no question about it. There are some people on the council that I can go to for things that I feel strongly about who will be more sympathetic and more likely to give me their support than there are others. And there are some people on the council that I never go to.

Interviewer
Do you feel that the news media has adequately given you the type of exposure you desire?

Robinson
Yes, because I’ve tried to run a low profile. They prod me every day for me to be controversial about something. It must be disappointing to them, but I’m not going to let that happen—never again.

Interviewer
You have been described by various segments of the community as a liberal or an establishment-type. How do you describe yourself?

Robinson
Yes, I think that I am more establishment oriented. I have worked through the democratic process, being a committee man, which I was pleased to be, back in ’67. I was precinct judge for over 10 years. I was very privileged to do that. I’ve worked for the Democratic Party. I was one of the vice presidents at one time. (inaudible)

Interviewer
0:47:56.9 Do you feel that Mayor Hofheinz has begun to fulfill his commitment to the black community?

Robinson
Yes, I do very strongly. What we’ve got to do is recognize the fact that this man is not Jesus. He can’t walk on water. We’ve got to give him a chance. Nobody feels worse than I do for raising (inaudible). I’ve got 3 fast food restaurants, where we use it all along. We have to have sampling oils and all this. I don’t like that either. But these are the things that we are going to do or the Environmental Protection authorities are going to close us up. We do them. He’s a gutsy young man. All he needs is a chance.

Interviewer
I wanted to get into the business aspect very briefly. What were your real motivations for getting involved in a career in business?

Robinson
Well, to be real honest, when I first got out of college I wanted to play professional football, but I wasn’t good enough to play. Then I decided that I wanted to be a millionaire.

(Break in audio)

Interviewer
0:49:22.2 One of your goals in getting into business, as you have stated, was to become a millionaire. Have you reached these goals?

Robinson
No, unfortunately, I think I was really on my way until about 1965. All I did was work. Then I got more involved in things like Ms White’s campaign and Barbara’s campaign and those things. I became more concerned about community issues and what was going on rather than balancing my bank.

Interviewer
Can you tell us what directly led you into the real estate business?

Robinson
0:50:01.8 Yes. My mother and father were in business. It was 1954, and they just weren’t knocking college doors down looking for blacks with a business background, so that was the only choice I had.

Interviewer
Can you tell us something about your investment into the Houston Rockets basketball team?

Robinson
Yes. Incidentally, today we had a long interview with a man out of New York from Black Enterprise. I was surprised to find that there were only two of us—a man by the name of Mike Alexander—I was surprised to find out that there were only two of us in the whole country who had gone into NBA franchises. One is a guy named Russell in Atlanta, with the Atlanta Hawks, and then me here in Houston. Unfortunately for me, it was not a good financial investment. I lost a lot of money.

Interviewer
I think you had investments in radio stations here.

Robinson
Yes. We’re trying to satisfy the FCC requirements. I’m most pleased with that. That’s KCOH.

Interviewer
I think you have also expanded into the fast food—Burger King—business.

Robinson
Yes. I’m very pleased with that. One of these days that’s going to pay off. We just opened our third store, and we’re in final plans—or we hope to break ground by December—for our fourth restaurant.

 

Interviewer
Is there a particular person or thing that has happened that has given you encouragement and great assistance in continuing in the business world?

Robinson
0:51:46.6 Oh, yes. My father and my wife.

Interviewer
Any other things about them that particularly—?

Robinson
My wife is—it’s January 6, and this is Friday night, and she’s still here and will still be here until about 7:30-8:00.

Interviewer
Is there a limited supply of sophisticated black builders available in the City of Houston?

Robinson
Unfortunately, yes. Yes, unfortunately. Every time I’m invited to participate in a deal—and I swear I try to be diversified—but these guys are the same ones that I go with on every deal. For example, people like Skipper Lee Frazier, the radio personality; Marv McDonald, my lawyer; Herbert Coleman(?), real estate broker; John (??), architect; John Bowman, doctor; Robbie Middleton(?), my business partner. Every time I get a deal, I am not able to expand this list.

Marchiafava
(inaudible)

Robinson
I have had very little dealings with Mr Hammond. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m still such a little fish. I don’t know. I’ve never done a deal with him—never.

Interviewer
What type of relationship does exist in Houston with the National Real Estate Association, as far as blacks and minorities are concerned?

Robinson
0:53:31.3 Well, let me give you an idea. There are about 300 brokers in Houston. There are 500-600 sales people in various offices. We sell less than 15 percent of all the blacks who buy houses. So we have a long way to go.

Interviewer
Have there been any difficulties with the black realtors with the white realty associations in Houston?

Robinson
Yes—yes. We were very privileged to have been the first black company to join MLS Multiple Listings. We were the second company that happened to be black to join the Houston (??). You’ve got to remember—and we’re still in a very formative, developing stage in the real estate business—our competition, Gary Green or Jim West or somebody like that, those people have not only been in business a long time, but they have people going around who are the most articulate and the most well-trained people I’ve met. We’re still struggling.

Interviewer
0:54:51.5 Why do you think that the white realty associations make it a bit difficult for you?

Robinson
Because they are better organized and more professional in their handling of clients and deals. Unfortunately for a lot of us, Robinson and Sons included, in a lot of instances—I hate to admit this—they give better service.

Interviewer
Can you tell us something about the mortgages and loans for blacks?

Robinson
We’re one of three in the city of Houston that’s approved by FHA. We’re privileged to have investors, like Golden State Mutual, a black-owned company out in California, Metropolitan Life. I think we’re one of maybe 3 or 4 black correspondents that Met has in the whole world, to my knowledge. Then you have Reliable Life out of Missouri, a very fine company. We’re learning. We’re learning the hard way. It’s an expensive process when you’re learning the way we have to learn.

Interviewer
What specific advice would you give to young blacks starting out in the business world, realty, or franchise here in Houston?

Robinson
0:56:32.1 Number one is try and get with a company that has the kind of people on board who can give them the kind of personal, individual attention that they need, and then listen and be willing to work hard. At Robinson and Sons—I’m speaking now just about the management; I’m not talking about our fast foods—all of our young men in our operations are college graduates. I can’t think of one in our management who isn’t. But I find it a real disappointment that in a lot of their activities everybody has their hand out, everybody wants something for nothing. Everybody is more concerned about vacation time and how much money he’s going to be paid when he’s off instead of what he can do to make the company grow. I’m sure that isn’t just with blacks.

Interviewer
Have you been faced with any specific problems in your dealings with the white business world?

Robinson
Oh, yes. They are very, very well organized. They understand exactly what they’re doing in every deal that I’ve been in. If you don’t understand what you’re doing, it’s best for you to not get into it, because they aren’t going to do it to you just because you’re black—not anymore. They’re going to do it to you because it’s a good deal. If it isn’t a good deal, then you’re just simply less (inaudible).

Interviewer
Are they generally receptive to your policy and commitments?

Robinson
Yes.

Interviewer
Do you think this pervades the entire business community?

Robinson
I don’t think so, because they have to remember that unfortunately a lot of our business people do not follow their rule. They have not had the opportunity to develop the kind of professional relationships with the major businesses in this community.

Interviewer
0:58:45.9 And my final question—and this is not so conclusive—but what are some of the obstacles or hindrances that you’ve encountered being a black businessman in Houston?

Robinson
When we go in on a deal, whether it be with a bank or lending institution or anybody else we deal with, my deal has not only got to be super good, but it’s got to be better than anything else. There is very little element of chance taken by the major institutions in this area, or any other area, that relates or deals with blacks.

Interviewer
Have you received good cooperation from the other lending agents in Houston? Blacks? Riverside National Bank and the Standard Savings and Loan Association?

Robinson
Yes. From Blacks, no. Standard Savings, yes—very much from them. I’m very privileged to be on the board over in Riverside, and my father is on the board over in Standard, so we have a very strong personal relationship with these two institutions. I think that they have been instrumental in the acceptance that we’ve received in going downtown.

Interviewer
Are there any issues or problems that we have not covered that you would like to expand upon?

Robinson
No. I think you’ve done just a super job. I’ve got to interview a little lady in just a minute for a job, but I think you all are doing a great job.

1:08:20.4 (end of audio)