Ira Robinson

Ira Robinson

Political trailblazer dies at 85.

Ira Robinson, the first African American to be elected to City Council since reconstruction, died April 19 at the age of 85.

Ira Robinson, the first African American to be elected to City Council since reconstruction, died April 19 at the age of 85.

“Ira Robinson was hope.”

— Political activist McArthur Myers


Ira Robinson, the first African American to serve on the Alexandria City Council since reconstruction, died April 19 at his home in Temecula, Calif., following a brief battle with cancer. He was 85.

Considered a long shot, Robinson was elected to City Council in 1970 during a time of racial tensions that included several days of violence on the heels of the shooting death of 19-year-old Robin Gibson, an African American teen killed by the owner of a 7-11.

“Martin Luther King had just gotten killed in ’68, Vietnam was just going on,” said McArthur Myers, who was a 16-year-old volunteer on Robinson’s campaign. “A lot of segregation still existed, you couldn’t go into stores. Ira Robinson was hope."

Robinson was seen as a peacemaker and used his time on council to bring about major changes in education, housing and law enforcement. He was instrumental in implementing a 1971 secondary school integration plan that brought the Alexandria public schools into full compliance with federal desegregation law.

That plan included the consolidation of three previous high schools into a single T.C. Williams secondary school. The 1971 TC football team state championship helped unite the community and became the basis of the 2000 Disney movie Remember the Titans.

Before his election to council Robinson focused much of his activism on changing the face of policing in the city. In 1968 he served on the Alexandria Crime Commission and the following year was hired to produce a study of police and community relations in Alexandria.

Robinson also served on the Alexandria Commission on Criminal Justice and the Metropolitan Council of Governments task force on drug abuse. He chaired the Alexandria Urban League voter registration drive, served on the board at the local branch of the NAACP and was a member of the Alexandria Economic Opportunities Commission. An avid sports fan, Robinson also advocated for young African American athletes who needed legal advice.

Ira Lawrence Robinson was born July 26, 1938, in New York City, the second son of Courtland Robinson and Lottie Olphin Robinson. Following the death of his father when he was 6 years old, Robinson’s mother moved the family to her hometown of Richmond.

Robinson attended segregated public schools and graduated from Virginia Union University in 1959. He began a career in teaching but with the help of Affirmative Action was able to attend the University of Virginia School of Law.

In 1970, Robinson took a position as legal counsel with the Susquehanna Corporation in Alexandria. He became administrative assistant to the president of Atlantic Research Corporation, an aerospace firm which was a subsidiary of Susquehanna.

Following his term on council, Robinson transferred to Susquehanna's Los Angeles office. He remained in the LA area until his retirement in 2006 working at various Southern California firms advising them on health care and real estate law.

Upon retirement, Robinson moved to Temecula, where he resumed the political activism of his early years by registering voters and campaigning for Democratic candidates for congress in majority Republican districts. He returned to Northern Virginia twice in recent years to supervise Election Day voting as a member of the National Democratic party's voter protection team.

Robinson is survived by former wives Sharon Derring Robinson of Playa Vista, Calif., and Barbara Thibault Robinson of Irvine, Calif.; daughter Cary Robinson of Playa Vista; son Marcus Robinson of Tracy, Calif.; granddaughters Jasmine Tookes-Borrero, and Chloe Conwell; great granddaughter Mia Victoria Borrero, and many great nieces and nephews.

Robinson is also survived by lifelong friends Andrew Epps of Richmond, Andrew Evans of Washington DC, and Mary Ames, originally of Alexandria.

Robinson was preceded in death by his parents Courtland Robinson and Lottie Olphin Robinson, his brother Courtland Robinson, sister-in-law Margetta Robinson, and first wife Rose Robinson Roberts.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the undergraduate school of Virginia Union University and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Said Myers, “During a time of many challenges in America, Ira Robinson was the right person, at the right time.”