“From the picture,” says the head of the African American Museum about the renaming of the Fair Park institution after him

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Dr. Harry Robinson Jr., Founder, President, and CEO of the African American Museum at Fair Park in Dallas, was adamant.

“That is absolutely not going to happen,” he emphasized.

The venerated local and national historian and custodian of African American archives was unwilling to rename the museum he created in his honor.

“That’s completely out of the picture,” he emphasized.

Harry robinson jr.(African American Museum / African American Museum)

The 80-year-old scientist and archivist was interviewed whether he could soften his well-known stance of putting him in the limelight instead of the museum. As always, he rummaged through several names of donors who he said deserve such honors more.

Naming others is a tactic Robinson – an effective but tenacious, quiet agent behind the scenes – has long used to divert attention from himself. Putting it in the spotlight is counterproductive to the museum’s goals, he argues.

“I always prefer a conservative way of working,” says Robinson, who has been running the museum for 47 years.

Robinson founded the museum at Bishop College in 1974. The college closed in 1988. After a long and arduous campaign, the museum moved to a new, ultra-modern building in Fair Park in 1993, where it received numerous honors.

Despite a challenging shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, museum directors and supporters say the institution is smelling rosy, with enthusiastic increased attendance for programs and exhibitions. A number of publications including D magazine, Highways in Texas and Dallas observer, have reported on high honors the museum has received.

And that’s how Robinson wants to keep it. Always the museum. Never him.

The African American Museum in Fair Park.
The African American Museum in Fair Park.(Brandon Wade / special article)

Dr. Vonciel Jones Hill, president of the museum’s board of directors, is campaigning for a legislative seat in the state of Texas. She was not available for comment on the board’s current opinion on a grassroots initiative launched in 2019 to honor Robinson with an ongoing project.

But Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, author, educator, historian and former museum volunteer, said he wasn’t surprised that Robinson stayed behind the scenes. Dulaney stepped forward in early 2020 when Robinson and Hill appointed him assistant director and chief operating officer to lead the museum’s day-to-day operations.

Robinson had chosen to focus on fundraising and spearhead the museum’s “Strategic Plan for the Future”. He is constantly raising support for ever-changing and lasting projects sponsored by the museum, including the popular Texas Black Invitational Rodeo, the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, the Women’s History Month lecture series, the Scott Joplin Chamber Orchestra Concert in association with The Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the free upcoming Christmas music under the dome and Christmas market square December 11-12. (To learn more, visit aamdallas.org.)

Dulaney previously said Robinson’s contributions to the arena of African American history are unmatched. Even so, he said he respected Robinson’s reluctance.

Dr.  Harry Robinson Jr. was for one "Hard hat" Party in the rotunda of the then unfinished new African American Museum building in Fair Park in 1993.
Dr. Harry Robinson Jr. was present in 1993 for a “hard hat” party in the rotunda of the then unfinished new building of the African American Museum in Fair Park.(1993 file photo)

“It’s so obvious that it is [the museum] should be named after him, ”Dulaney said recently. “It’s his museum, his baby, his legacy. Like others, I want him to take the honor. “

Dulaney said he understood Robinson’s reluctance, however, because Dulaney himself had a similar mindset when local historians founded the W. Marvin Dulaney branch of the 106-year Association for the Study of African American Life and History in 2018. There is a lot of pressure on the person whose name makes such honor, Dulaney said.

Other educators and community leaders who have stated that Robinson should be permanently recognized at the museum include Dr. Thalia Matherson, Dr. George Keaton Jr. and Herdercine Nash. All said they will step down until Robinson is ready to take a fair toll. Nash said she was among supporters moving a street near downtown Dallas to be named after the founder of the Dallas Black Dance Theater, Ann Williams.

Some community supporters have mentioned the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, which the African American doctor founded in 1965. The museum was renamed in his honor in 1998 when he was 79 years old. He died four years later.

The African American Museum was born in a small room in the library of the long-closed Bishop College.  It's been a fixture in Dallas Fair Park for a quarter of a century.

However, two local museum supporters say they are pleased that after a lot of effort, they persuaded Robinson to sit down for a lengthy, virtual oral history interview during the museum’s pandemic closure.

Education and nonprofit counselors Linda Dickerson Lamar and Helen Benjamin said their passion for African American storytelling led them to start and personally fund an oral history project. They tirelessly insisted that Robinson agree to an interview about the creation of the museum and his nearly five decades of work directing it. They are refining the recordings and hope to make them available online by early 2022.

“Dr. Robinson has so much history on his mind. We saw our role as being to download his brain,” said Benjamin, a retired West Coast Community College chancellor who now lives in Dallas.

“We had to crawl, but it was so important to us,” said Lamar, a graduate of Bishop College and a nonprofit administrator. “Our African American history is too often lost. We have to be more strategic to get it. “

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