Joe Robinson

In 1920, Tampa, Florida’s second largest city, had 51,608 residents, some 11,531 of whom were African Americans, but only one black policeman: Joe Robinson. For any U.S. city at the time, to have a black man on its police force was rare, especially in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era. Joe Robinson filled that role for nearly five years, and his arrests and activities made good press. The document below concerns Joe arresting suspected “dope” addicts in May 1917. There are hundreds of other newspaper stories like this one concerning Joe Robinson. If you were to choose this topic for your Senior History Thesis project, your task would be to construct a “word portrait” of Robinson, describing his physical attributes, his behavioral patterns and qualities of mind. In addition, you would need to discuss what Robinson’s story reveals about the beliefs, values, and assumptions of others when he lived. By focusing on one person, tracing Robinson’s interaction with his fellow Tampans, what can we learn about life during this particular time and place in history?

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