Hyman Robinson’s wire rimmed glasses sit high on his face. He stands tall and slender with his smile whose as proud as his record. Many professors at Las Positas come from colorful backgrounds, filled with incredible insight with well hidden stories. This sociology professor in particular has quite the experience.
Professor Robinson, in 1941 born and raised in Mississippi, has been teaching for 47 years. As a man with a rich past, Robinson once was active and involved in several different societal movements like the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement, led by César Chávez. Using examples from his past, Robinson continues to create thoughtful discussion on society to his students.
Robinson has seen plenty of change in America and many different cultural shifts. One of the main cultural ideas Robinson noticed as a young boy was segregation.
“Growing up, it was part of the culture, and you don’t really realized how it impacted society until someone from the outside opens up the view for you,” Robinson said. He noted that his time at Mississippi State were particularly beneficial. “A minister there, Jean Ethridge opened up my eyes on these issues.”
Robinson soon after felt a need to create discussion with people from all different races and backgrounds to bring perspective into his life.
Robinson joined the minister’s group, left to a segregated college, and decided to do just that: discuss. “The critical word back in those days was dialogue, and just talk to each other. What have you experienced, what have you gone through, what is it like?” Robin said.
In 1959, Ethridge asked Robinson and other classmates if they would like to go to a Christian leadership conference. Robinson agreed and journeyed to Athens, Ohio, where an influential civil rights activist figure was speaking. “Dr. (Martin Luther) King was the keynote speaker. After the keynote, he had discussions with smaller groups, and that’s where I took a photo of him.”
In 1962, Robinson joined the Navy Reserve and Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). He was stationed on a ship in Florida as part of the Cuban blockade in the Cold War until 1964. After his service, Robinson went back to Mississippi. He soon felt the need to help others facing injustices in the south.
“By that time, several civil rights groups started up,” Robinson added. “There was a local one called Committee of Concern that was raising money and helping fix churches that were burned down by KKK members.” Moved by their mission, Robinson joined the committee for a year.
“In 1965 I got itchy feet, I guess,” Robinson chuckled. “I packed up my motorcycle with my guitar and sleeping bag, signed up for a summer with a group called the California Migrant Ministry, and set out.” The California Migrant Ministry (CAMM) was an influential piece of the United Farm Workers movement, headed by César Chávez. It was there that Robinson served by lending a hand in funds, aiding protests and creating dialogue with the farm workers.
“Working with picket lines, I left to Borrego Springs with Gilbert Padilla and César Chávez. We met with workers to discuss their conditions, offering them to join the union movement,” Robinson recounted.
After Robinson finished with his time with the CAMM, he returned to school to gain his Masters in Sociology at Cal State Hayward.
“I wanted to teach,” Robinson said. His dedication to generate discussion translated incredibly naturally to the classroom as he seeks to challenge and inspire his students.
So why does sociology matter, according to the man who worked with two of the most influential civil rights leaders in American history? What does he wish for his students to learn most?
“To see how society really works.”