He soothes with spirituals and stings with cries of racial injustice. His expression shifts from rage to rapture, from hate to happiness. That is how Edward W. Robinson Jr. leaves audiences spellbound.
His message is simple: "These are perilous times for black people."
At 63, Robinson is an author, singer, historian, lawyer and an assistant city manager of Philadelphia. Last Sunday he was the main speaker, and singer, in an afternoon program at John F. Kennedy High School entitled "Our Rich Cultural Past: An Exploratory Journey." Sponsored by the Iota Upsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a black service organization, Robinson's appearance culminated observance of Black History Month.
Robinson warned the well-dressed crowd of 500 about increasing Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party activity. He cited the unsolved murders of 19 black children in Atlanta, where two other children are still missing. "that is only the tip of the iceberg," he said, warning that a pogrom on blacks could happen here. "We (blacks) are hated, loathed and despised," he said.
During much of his emotional delivery, Robinson castigated public school systems, teachers and administrators -- both black and white -- for treating black children as inherently inferior students and for emphasizing slave times in black history lessons.
"We were not slaves. We were never slaves. We were prisoners of war who labored under the gun." He said, "We've had enough stuff on slavery and chopping feet off. The only thing that it does is raise the guilt level of whites, and that is dangerous," said Robinson, and he added, "no whites in America today are responsible for what happened then."
Robinson said he would like to see American school textbooks rewritten to include African history. "That is one of our problems. We don't know who we are."
In addition, Robinson said too many educators still regard black students as "genetically inferior" and expect them to fail in their studies. This, he said, causes many blacks to suffer academically. "The schools destroy them the second they get hold of them."
To repair the decades of damage, Robinson said all teachers should be taught that "black blood is not tainted. . . . We are free from chains. When are we to be free from the myth of contamination?" he asked. He said the missing pages of black history should be replaced.
One member of the audience was Silver Spring resident Doris Haley, the sister-in-law of Alex Haley, who wrote the best-selling novel "Roots." She called Robinson's speech "a real education. It gave me more pride in my blackness, in my roots."