According to Regina Robinson, “The issue is not that blacks did not accomplish much but rather how many great things they were able to accomplish in spite of all the obstacles that were always …
by Len Lear
For Regina Robinson, African American history is a lifelong passion, especially educating people of all races about Black heroes of the past whose names are unknown to all but the cognoscenti. Heroes such as Caroline Le Count, who in 1867 worked to desegregate Philadelphia streetcars; architect Julian Francis Abele, who helped design the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the 128 slaves on the ship Creole who revolted successfully in 1841 and wrested themselves from a life of exploitation and secured freedom in the Bahamas; and Philadelphia composer and band leader Francis Johnson, who was born in 1792, among many others.
Robinson, 65, a Germantown resident since 2004 who holds a master’s degree in Media Ecology from New York University, is a consultant in the field of workplace education and training. She specializes in classroom instruction, curriculum development and adult education organizations, and she and three colleagues put together the Deep Rivers Black History House Tour and other events (now all online) for Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, 200 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown.
“Regina is just the best,” said Diane Richardson, spokesperson for the Victorian mansion that puts on many historical programs, lately on Zoom. “She is a member of the Mansion's Black History Advisory Board and has been instrumental with every part of the Mansion's new Deep Rivers Tour and all our other new African American programming.”
A native of Darby in Delaware County (NOT Upper Darby, she insists), Regina loves Germantown so much that for five years she went back and forth to New York City three days a week on Amtrak; then her work changed, and she would go to Albany, Syracuse and other destinations in New York state.
She has a contract with the state of New York to teach unionized civil service employees — DMV workers, people who take care of parks, etc. — basic skills so they can take promotional tests or academic courses to get a degree. She also teaches classes for immigrant farmworkers. “I love it!” she insisted.
But it's when the subject of African American accomplishments is raised that a fire is lit under Robinson. “I have been told,” she said, “that my people never accomplished anything great. Because we were not taught about all of those remarkably accomplished African Americans in school does not mean they were not there. They were!
“Then we are told to 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps.' Many who tried to do just that were beaten, lynched. I'm talking about generations of oppression and powerlessness, but so many blacks kept working hard to improve their lives. The issue is not that blacks did not accomplish much but rather how many great things they were able to accomplish in spite of all the obstacles that were always being placed in their way.
“The whole system was designed to keep white males in power. Our whole history is evidence of that. So why is it a surprise then that white people do not know much about us? In my own family background there are doctors, lawyers, nurses, judges, engineers, etc., despite all of the obstacles that were placed in their way. How can you not be impressed? But we were overlooked. We had very little voice, so many people think that what I am saying about our impressive past cannot possibly be true.”
Referring to the Deep Rivers Tour, Robinson said, “These stories need to be told. There is a movement now to learn about people you never knew existed. There is a movement to connect with your ancestors. It helps us understand who we are. If they could do what they did under those oppressive, racist conditions, starting institutions that still exist, etc., how much more could they have done on a level playing field?”
Because of the pandemic, most of the classes Robinson would normally be holding in New York state have been canceled, although she has taught a writing course via Zoom. Her classes are normally held on state property — lecture halls, training rooms, basements, conference rooms, hospitals, halfway houses, etc.
There might be a one-day class on how to write more effective emails or a 12-week course on reading comprehension. Or a refresher course for taking promotional tests. Usually there are 10 to 15 adult students in a class, maybe more. According to Robinson, “One may say, 'Because of this course, I am now able to help my kids with their homework.'”
For more information on the Deep Rivers Tour: 215-438-1861 or ebenezermaxwellmansion.org
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org