JoAnn Robinson began her career in public service as an educator in Macon, Georgia, working in public schools as an educator.
She would go on to earn her master’s degree from Atlanta University and attend Columbia University. A job at Alabama State College for Negroes (now Alabama State University) brought Robinson to Montgomery, where she would join the Women’s Political Council. The WPC was an organization of African American women activists who were faculty of Alabama State College, teachers in the public schools and wives of other African American professionals in Montgomery. These women came together to fight the discrimination and racism African Americans faced on a daily basis.
Prior to Rosa Parks’ 1955 arrest, the Women’s Political Council had begun discussing the possibility of a bus boycott. JoAnn Robinson was the WPC president at the time, and met with city officials during 1953 and 1954, pressing them to adopt reforms that would keep segregation in place but no longer require that black passengers surrender their seats to whites. When they received word that Rosa Parks had been arrested the WPC sprang into action. Robinson who was still an English professor at nearby Alabama State College, copied thousands of flyers urging African Americans to boycott buses on the day of Parks’ trial. WPC members canvassed Montgomery’s African American community to spread the word. The one-day boycott proved so successful that the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed to direct the movement to change the bus laws.
A simple demand that blacks be able to keep their seats evolved into a battle to end segregated buses altogether. The boycott lasted nearly a year, with a U.S. Supreme Court decision finally ruling the Alabama laws unconstitutional. The victory made Martin Luther King, the young president of the MIA, a household name, thanks in large part to the actions and activism of JoAnn Robinson and the Women’s Political Council.