|Photo courtesy of the American Football Coaches Association|
|Eddie receives the president's gavel from outgoing president Darrell Royal of the University of Texas, signaling the beginning of Eddie's year as the first black president of the American Football Coaches Association in 1976.|
EDDIE ROBINSON consistently told everyone he encountered that "America is the greatest country in the world," and overcame racial discrimination with quiet, humble achievement. "To me, he was the Martin Luther King of football," said retired Jackson State coach W.C. Gorden, a long-time friend and adversary who joined Robinson in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Thousands who paid tribute upon Robinson's death in 2007 share Gorden's view.
Covering six decades, Robinson's coaching career paralleled the Jim Crow era of segregation in the Deep South and every major event of the Civil Rights Movement. His historic tenure spanned 11 U.S. Presidencies and four wars involving American troops – 57 years all at the same university: Grambling.
Robinson's teams won 408 games, making him the first, and one of only two coaches, to win more than 400 football games in a career. Most importantly, by grooming and mentoring two players – Paul "Tank" Younger and James "Shack" Harris, he opened pro football to athletes from historically black colleges and undermined stereotypes that excluded black players from leadership positions in the game.
Under Robinson the Grambling football program became nationally known for developing players who achieved stardom in the National Football League. From the late 1960s through the early 1980s, only Notre Dame had more former players on NFL rosters than Grambling. More than 200 of Robinson's players played pro football, and four have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Willie Davis of the Green Bay Packers, Willie Brown of the Oakland Raiders, Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs and Charlie Joiner of the San Diego Chargers. A fifth, Doug Williams, was the first black quarterback to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft and became the first black quarterback to win the Most Valuable Player Award in a Super Bowl.
Robinson emphasized getting an education and being prepared for the profound changes that he was certain would come in American society, and many say his most enduring legacy are the thousands of men and women who became productive, successful contributors in adulthood by following his example of responsibility and hard work.
"The man is a peerless legend," said Charlie Joiner, one of four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame coached by Robinson. "He's a legend not just in Louisiana, but all across America. He's one of the biggest legends in the black world – in black America – there ever has been."
"He must be looked upon as one individual who made a major contribution to the cause of racial equality in America," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the early 1960s and a highly respected member of Congress, during his 12th term.
"When he took the reins at Grambling, segregation was still the law in Louisiana," then-Governor Kathleen Blanco said in a tribute to Robinson upon his death. "But even that could not stop his determination and belief that in America, anyone could succeed. Over the years Coach Rob leveled the playing field both in football and in life for all of us."
EDDIE ROBINSON: " ... he was the Martin Luther King of football" places Eddie Robinson's career as one of America's sports icons, his life as an influential leader of his race, and the growth of the Grambling football program in the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement and other moments in American history. Each reader is invited to reach a personal, individual conclusion regarding W.C. Gorden's characterization based on Robinson's actions and contributions when viewed through the prism of his time.
This biography is based on interviews with dozens of people who encountered Robinson in a variety of ways, including U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who is a former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who was head football coach at Jackson State and Texas Southern and faced Robinson 10 times; and retired Grambling president Raymond Hicks, numerous former players and coaches, university associates, sports writers, friends and former Grambling students. The work also relies on extensive research into six decades of college football events and a half-century of civil rights history.