JW Robinson – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
JW Robinson has been a practicing architect in Atlanta for over thirty years, as well as an educator and mentor to African-American architects and other professionals. In 1995, he became the first African-American architect in Georgia to be elevated to the rank of a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Robinson’s work included historic preservation in the historic Sweet Auburn and Martin Luther King Jr. neighborhoods of Atlanta, and he was a founding member of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
Joseph W. Robinson was born November 25, 1927 in Hartsville, South Carolina, to Mary Robinson Frazier and Jasper Robinson, and he attended Georgetown, South Carolina public schools. He graduated from the Hampton Institute in Virginia in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture, and the same year, drawn to the opportunities of the postwar period (1941-1945), he moved to Atlanta, where he studied at the University of Atlanta (later Clark Atlanta University). Deprived of a job in his chosen field of architecture due to segregation, Robinson became a teacher in a public school. During his fifteen years at Booker T. Washington High School (1953-68), he introduced new subjects such as descriptive geometry and inspired his students to enter the field of architecture.
In addition to teaching, Robinson developed a practice in residential architecture, helping to reshape communities in Atlanta during an era of segregation. A license was not required to work on houses, and he designed more than 200 houses, tackling the problem of separate public facilities through the development of large recreational spaces that allowed residents to organize public gatherings in the privacy of their home. After several years of working under the direction of an established architect in the 1960s, Robinson obtained his license and in 1970 he established his own business, which became JW Robinson & Associates, Inc. One of his First projects were the design of Fire Station # 38 on Bankhead Highway, for which he received an award from the Atlanta Chapter of the AIA.
Among the achievements of the Robinson firm, many public projects, such as the Grant Park swimming pool and a municipal garage; community centers, including the Martin Luther King, Drew Park and Adamsville Park community buildings; and social housing, including the Azalea Gardens and Perry Homes community buildings. Educational institutions for which the company has received awards include elementary and secondary schools (Southside Comprehensive High School) and college and university buildings (Robert W. Woodruff Library at Clark Atlanta University and John H. Lewis Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Building at Morris Brown College). Robinson’s extensive body of work also includes several Atlanta churches, libraries, and banks, and his clients included large corporations such as BellSouth (later AT&T), Delta Air Lines, and Atlanta Life Insurance Company.
Robinson’s architectural leadership is notable in his role in two of Atlanta’s first M / M joint venture projects, Halls C and D, and the shell of the MARTA Station at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as well as the Ashby Street MARTA Station. For the airport project, a group of African-American architects formed Minority Airport Architects and Planners, with Robinson as president. The organization included Leon Allain, William McDuffie and Louis Fry. In 1992, Robinson designed the CB King US Federal Courthouse in Albany. (Named after prominent civil rights lawyer CB King, the courthouse was completed in 2002.)
Robinson’s leadership among African American architects included an early interest in preserving places that represent the cultural life and achievements of African Americans. At a time when historic preservation was not the community development process expected in black neighborhoods, Robinson was instrumental in preserving the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and other buildings in the historic neighborhoods of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sweet Auburn. His historic building rehabilitation projects include the Odd Fellows Building and the Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Auburn Avenue, and the Baptist Church of Friendship. He also worked with preservation architect Lane Greene on the historic Morton Theater in Athens.
Robinson was married to Willie Louise Robinson and had three children: Joseph W. Jr., Jeffrey L. and Janice. In May 2007, his son Jeffrey became president of JW Robinson & Associates, Inc., and his son Joseph W. Jr. became the executive director of construction for the company.
Robinson died in Atlanta at the age of eighty on September 14, 2008. His legacy includes not only his many buildings, but also the young architects he inspired and nurtured throughout his career.