Interview with Rickie Robinson

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Rickie Robinson

Subject

Hanford Site (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Yakima (Wash.)
Migration
Northwest, Pacific
Civil rights
Civil rights movements
Segregation

Description

Rickie Robinson was born in Pasco, Washington in 1952. Rickie's parents moved to Pasco, Washington in 1947 and were influential in the community.

A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288

Publisher

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

02/16/2018

Rights

Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at ourhanfordhistory@tricity.wsu.edu, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Format

video/mp4

Provenance

The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to the US Department of Energy collection. This oral history collection was done in partnership with the National Park Service under Task Agreement P17AC01288.

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Robert Franklin

Interviewee

Rickie Robinson

Location

Washington State University - Tri Cities

Transcription

Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Richie Robinson—

Rickie Robinson: Rickie.

Franklin: Rick—sorry, I keep doing that. Rickie Robinson. On February 16th, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Rickie about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

Robinson: My name is Rickie Wright Robinson. R-I-C-K-I-E, W-R-I-G-H-T, R-O-B-I-N-S-O-N.

Franklin: Great, thank you so much, Rickie. So usually I start by asking people about how they came to the Hanford area—or to the Tri-Cities—but your parents were the first ones in your family to come here, right?

Robinson: Yes, they—

Franklin: So what—oh, sorry, go ahead.

Robinson: They moved to Pasco in 1947 and opened a little restaurant. They called it the Queen Street Diner.

Franklin: Okay. And why did your parents move to Pasco?

Robinson: They were recently discharged, if you will. My dad was from the Navy. Because he fought in World War II. They were actually planning on moving from Seattle—they were living in Seattle at the time. They were actually planning on moving to San Diego. They told me that they heard about this place over in southeastern Washington where you could go and make a lot of money. Because there was this Hanford thing going on. Wheat country, and all that, and so forth. So they drove over here, and liked what they saw, and decided to stay. They always used to chuckle about that, because they had already sent all of their stuff to San Diego. When they got here, they said, whoa, we’d better stay here. So they came, bought a piece of property over in east Pasco, just adjacent to the railroad tracks there on Queen Street, and opened the little restaurant.

Franklin: Besides the economy, what also was—why else were your parents attracted to the area? Was there already a pretty large black community in east Pasco?

Robinson: Not really. Not at that time. In 1947, there were black people that were starting to come into the Tri-Cities, as with all of the Pacific Northwest, mostly because of the economy that was happening here in the State of Washington. Western Washington, of course, there was Boeing and all of that. Over here, it was Hanford, and these big farms and all that kind of stuff. But what attracted the black people here at that time was the work that was available in construction and so forth, here at Hanford.

Franklin: Did your parents—either of your parents ever work at Hanford?

Robinson: A little bit. My dad, he worked as a carpenter for a little while, and he also worked in one of the plants out there, I think it was B Plant. But not for very long. For the bulk of his time at work here, he worked at the Tri-City Country Club. He was the assistant manager of not only the Tri-City Country Club but the Walla Walla Country Club and Yakima Country Club. So, as a family, we lived in all three cities, but we spent most of our time here in the Tri-Cities. My mother, she was a social worker for the Pasco School District.

Franklin: Your mom left a pretty big imprint in Pasco, right, and the school district.

Robinson: Yes.

Franklin: I’m wondering if you could talk about that.

Robinson: Yes, she was hired by the superintendent at the time. His name was Lewis Ferrari. Dr. Lewis Ferrari. He was concerned about the lack of communication between the Pasco School District and the African American community. Of course, this was in the early-to-mid ‘60s, and of course, if you read your history books, you know what was going on in the country in the time about Civil Rights and all that. He was extremely concerned about that, and since my mother had some experience in doing Campfire Girls and other things like that around the community, he hired her and created a position that was called ombudsman. So her job was to do outreach, to make sure the kids got to school, got what they needed to perform well in school like that. Kind of an outreach of that, she interacted with a lot of families and so forth. This was also the time when a lot of the migration started taking place with the Hispanic people moving into the Tri-Cities to work on the farms and so forth like that. And then something started to happen with that population of people: they started to stay, as opposed to come up for seasons and then go back to Texas or Mexico or wherever they were from. They started to stay. And she had—she interacted with a lot of Hispanic people as well as the black families in Pasco.

Franklin: So the early-to-mid ‘60s, then, that’s that moment where Pasco really starts to diversify—where the Hispanic population starts becoming more permanent?

Robinson: More permanent, and of course the black population was becoming more pronounced, more vocal. Pasco had its share of marches and things like that to articulate their need for fair treatment for housing and all the other things that were going on all across the country. And it was happening here in the Tri-Cities as well. Predominantly in Pasco at that time.

Franklin: Do you remember any specific events in Pasco connected to the civil rights movement?

Robinson: Yes, I remember some marches that were taking place. Of course, I was a young kid and a teenager at the time. I remember some strife that was going on at Pasco High. Because I went to Pasco High. There was some strife going on at Pasco High. School got closed down a few times.

Franklin: Really?

Robinson: Yeah.

Franklin: What for?

Robinson: As I recall, there were some bomb threats that were phoned in. No bombs were ever found. But when a bomb threat would come in, then they would close the school. And there were fights and things like that. Thankfully, no shootings. You know. But we had our share.

Franklin: Okay. Where were your parents from? Where were your parents born?

Robinson: My dad was born in San Antonio, Texas. My mom was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but she was raised in Saginaw, Michigan.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Robinson: And they met in Douglas, Arizona. Never could figure out what my mother was doing in Douglas, Arizona, because she got married at an early age, age 16—not to my dad, to another guy. So from age 16 up until just before she met—married my father, she lived in Chicago. She was a waitress and things like that. My dad, on the other hand, was on his way to Los Angeles from San Antonio, because his family had a long history of culinary work, working in hotels and things like that. He worked in some of the prominent hotels in San Antonio, Texas. I can’t recall the name of this big prominent hotel, but it’s adjacent to the Alamo. And I remember the last time I took my dad home to San Antonio, he said, that, that was my first job there. It was this big hotel, and it’s adjacent to the Alamo. But he had a long history of that. Anyway, he was on his way to Los Angeles to work with his uncles who had moved to Los Angeles. There were a lot of opportunities for culinary work down there. When he was in Douglas, Arizona, where one of his uncles lived, he got his draft notice for the Navy. And he ended up in Seattle. So he never made it Los Angeles. He and my mother met in Douglas, Arizona. My father was also coming out of a marriage that was falling apart. The two of them met. When he got drafted, he went to Seattle and so forth, and then he sent for my mom, and they got married in 1945.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Robinson: And then moved to the Tri-Cities in 1947.

Franklin: Okay. I wanted to ask a bit about segregation, both formal and informal. So your parents, at least where they were born, would have experienced formal segregation, Jim Crow. But the North was kind of an area of informal segregation.

Robinson: Informal, yes.

Franklin: Did your parents ever talk about their experiences with the informal segregation of the North and in Pasco specifically?

Robinson: Well, yes. They told me a story—of course, back then, when black people moved to the Tri-Cities, they were only shown property in east Pasco, which was east of the railroad tracks. So there were not any black people, that I can recall, that lived on the west side of the tracks. They told me some stories that had happened. In fact, a real incident of segregation, if you will, happened to my aunt, who’s my mom’s sister. She was pregnant with her second child, and it was in the middle of the summer on one of those 100-degree-plus days here in Pasco that we all love. She was pregnant, she walked into a Payless Drugstore—at that time Payless Drugstore was located on the corner of 4th and Lewis in Pasco. And she wanted a glass of water, and they wouldn’t give it to her. She just wanted a glass of ice water. They wouldn’t give it to her. So that’s one incident that they used to talk about. There’s also another incident that kind of happened like before my time that they used to talk about. There was an incident at the Greyhound bus station in Pasco. I can’t recall the details of it, but because of that incident, the Washington State Human Rights Commission was formed. Because, I think they would not—this story was told to me—they would not let this woman use the bathroom there. It turns out that that woman that they would not let use the bathroom was the wife of Adam Clayton Powell.

Franklin: Yes. That she—and her name escapes me—it wasn’t the bathroom; they wouldn’t serve her lunch.

Robinson: Okay, I knew it was something, yeah.

Franklin: And the reason she was given—this was in 1949—was that we don’t serve blacks here. You can get your food to go, was the—

Robinson: Right, yeah. And so that was the wrong woman to do that to.

Franklin: Yeah.

Robinson: So, anyway, that’s a thing of—a good thing coming out of a bad incident.

Franklin: Right, you mean the formation of the civil rights commission—

Robinson: Yeah, the civil rights commission and things of that nature. And, you know, incidents like that, they’re ugly, but oftentimes, they turn out to be good things, because they spur people into motion.

Franklin: Right, yeah, definitely. What about—to your knowledge, were people ever shown property in Kennewick? What was the relationship between Kennewick and Pasco at that time, vis-à-vis African Americans and housing?

Robinson: Well, we grew up—when I was growing up here, there was this—I don’t know if it was an unwritten rule, or if it was a written rule someplace, that all black people had to be out of Kennewick by sundown. They used to say there was a sign there. I personally never saw the sign. But there was that kind of unwritten rule. I will say, an incident that happened to me personally—and this was after I was old enough to have my own car; I think I was maybe 19, maybe 20 years old at the time, so that would have been in 1970, 1971, or ’72. Somewhere in that neck of the woods. I was driving in Kennewick in my car in the middle of the afternoon, and I was pulled over by the police. He wanted to know what I was doing in Kennewick. I’ve never been—I’m no angel, you know, but I’m not a square, either, but I was never on the police radar, if you will, as somebody that they needed to keep an eye on. So I thought that was weird, that he would pull me over and ask me what I was doing in Kennewick at 3:00 in the—

Franklin: Did he give you a reason, like for a traffic infraction or something?

Robinson: What he told me is that there was a report of somebody doing something inappropriate over at Kennewick High School. I wasn’t anywhere near Kennewick High School when that went down, whatever he was talking about. I don’t know if the description was of my car or whatever. But that was it. Now, he did let me go. I wasn’t arrested or anything like that. But, you know. It was just an odd question to be asking somebody at 3:00 in the afternoon, why are you in Kennewick?

Franklin: Right, and you felt you had been singled out because of your race.

Robinson: Oh, definitely.

Franklin: Okay, let me see here. We actually already covered quite a bit of my—oh, so you had mentioned that blacks were only shown homes in east Pasco. So that east Pasco seems to be kind of the locus of the black community in the Tri-Cities.

Robinson: It was at that time.

Franklin: It was at that time. I’m wondering if you could talk a bit more about growing up there. What were the important institutions? What was community life like?

Robinson: Oh, it was nice, because we were a close-knit community. All of our churches were over there. I went to St. James CME Church, but there was also Morning Star Baptist Church, there was Church of God and Christ, there was Greater Faith Baptist and New Hope Baptist Church. So we would do a lot of things over there. The focus of our activities as kids in east Pasco was Kurtzman Park. That was the spot. And it was originally, I remember, it was called Candy Cane Park. Because I remember it had these little candy cane things on it when I was a little kid. But it was later renamed to Kurtzman Park, because I think the gentleman who donated to the city that land that he owned there, with the specificity that it be made into a park for the kids that lived in east Pasco. So that was—I never—I don’t know anything about that guy or—nothing, but that was what was told.

Franklin: Cool. What kind of housing did you live in? Could you describe it?

Robinson: I was fortunate. I lived in a regular house. Like I said, my dad opened a restaurant when he moved here. They bought a piece of property, and my dad—I mentioned he was a carpenter, along with being a culinary artist, he was also a carpenter—so, he made a portion of that house—no, I’ll take that back. He found an overturned trailer and pulled it up onto the property. It had been abandoned. He went through all of the legal hoops that you have to jump through for a trailer and so forth. Got it licensed and so forth, fixed it up and made it into a restaurant, and it was right adjacent to our house. So I grew up in what would be called middle class. So my housing was fine, and there were many people in east Pasco who had built their own homes. Because many of the people who lived in east Pasco, they came up here, they were tradesmen. They were bricklayers, carpenters, et cetera, et cetera. So they had built their own homes. And of course there were other homes that were not so good. But for the most part, life was fine. We had dirt roads for streets. One of the biggest pieces of amazement for me as someone who grew up in Pasco is Oregon Street. Because when I was little, Oregon Street was all but a dirt road. And now it’s this big, wide boulevard that goes all the way through, across the tracks and so forth. Back then, it didn’t. It kind of ended down where we lived.

Franklin: So that trailer that your dad found, that’s what became the Queen Street Diner.

Robinson: That was the first one, yeah. And before we actually named it—well, he named it the Queen Street Diner, and his thing was Texas fried chicken. Because, you know, he’s from Texas. But around town, they used to call it the Squeeze Inn.

Franklin: Because it was—

Robinson: Because it was just a trailer. And it was kind of like the hot spot at the time for people to come and socialize and so forth. So you know, you could only get so many people in a trailer. So they called it the Squeeze Inn.

Franklin: [CHUCKLING] That’s really funny. Yeah. Did your parents ever talk to you much about working at Hanford? And what exactly they did, or what kind of projects they worked on?

Robinson: Well, like I said, my dad was a carpenter. And also he worked at B Plant. I think it was B Plant; I could be wrong about exactly where. But not really in terms of the details about they did—what he did out there. My mom never worked at Hanford. She always worked in social work kinds of things. Most of that—she was like a 25-year employee with the Pasco School District. So they didn’t talk about that that much. Again, like I said, most of the time, when my dad was working, he was at the country club. So he’d go to work with a suit on and everything like that. Everybody thought we were rich. But we weren’t.

Franklin: Did your dad ever talk about experiencing any discrimination or segregation at work?

Robinson: Mm, not at work. Most of the time, when they talked about segregation and things like that, it was stuff that would happen in the community. Not necessarily at work. He never came home and told me stories about, do you know what happened, do you know what they said at work? And that’s not to say that they didn’t happen, but my parents had a way of dealing with that stuff, and they taught us how to deal with that, in such a way to be productive about it. Because we were always taught that we weren’t any better than anybody else. But believe me, nobody was better than us. And so we were to act a certain way that demanded respect and to give people respect. I remember--kind of a sidetrack to that—when urban renewal came through—because we lived on the east side when I was a little kid—right there kind of where Tommy’s Steel and Salvage is now, that’s where we used to live. And it’s kind of funny when I drive by there now, because I can still see some of the trees that were in my backyard at the time. They’re still there all these years later. But when urban renewal came through—and I think this was at the onset of the Johnson Administration—so they came and bought my parents out and so forth, and we moved to the west side of town. Right across the street from what is now a Boys and Girls Club in Pasco. Shortly after we moved there, there was a gentleman that lived across the street from us who actually knew my dad, because my dad worked at the country club and he was a member of the country club. He put his house up for sale, shortly after we moved there. And he came over and told my dad that he’s putting his house up for sale, he says, but believe me, we’d been planning on doing this for a long time. He was very apologetic to my father. Because you know, back then, there was the thing about white flight.

Franklin: Right, right. Very well documented.

Robinson: And so what my dad told him, and I’ll never forget this, he said, that’s okay, he said, because I’m going to put my house up for sale, too, but I’m going to get it while it’s hot. That’s how he handled that kind of stuff. Because, again, he always taught us—they always taught us—that we’re equal to everybody. So if the housing market is hot, he’s going to take advantage of it, and not be insulted by the fact that somebody put his house up for sale because this quote-unquote black family was moving in. Now, kind of ironically, they never did move. [LAUGHTER] The people across the street.

Franklin: I guess the market wasn’t all that hot.

Robinson: Exactly, I guess not.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, that is a very well—you know, white flight occurred all across the—did you hear anything else—did that happen other places in west Pasco? How did west Pasco react to the urban renewal?

Robinson: You know, I cannot say how it was. I can’t—because I was a kid. At that time, Pasco’s a small town. So as kids growing up together, black and white—we were kids. We’d always know what was taught to kids in their own homes about us, but we as kids would interact like kids do. Of course, there were times that we would fight, like I said earlier, there was a strife. And of course, if the wrong words were ever said, oh, it was on. But we never experienced seeing that kind of stuff to that degree that we see on TV, like people out protesting, keeping the black people out and stuff like that. I mean, again, we’re in the Pacific Northwest, so things were a little different here. I also shared with you the story about my aunt and being refused a glass of water. I’m sure it was 110 out that day. They wouldn’t give her a glass of ice water and she was pregnant! So, sure, there was that kind of stuff going on. But organized activities, demonstrating against black people moving places—I cannot recall that ever happening. But I am sure that—we would go into a store, and you could notice sometimes that people were kind of watching out, and watching you. Sometimes, it weighed on us. It was sorrow. We—at least in my household, we were taught how to deal with that.

Franklin: Yeah, I think, subtle’s a really good word for that kind of—

Robinson: Yeah.

Franklin: It’s there, but it’s sometimes hard to get a real handle on it.

Robinson: Yeah, it’s subtle, it’s subtle-slash-sleazy. I mean, because—you know what was going on.

Franklin: Right, right, it’s like, clear, but subtle at the same time.

Robinson: Right.

Franklin: What kind of opportunities were available for betterment in the community for folks that came—like, maybe educational or monetary or job training or things like that?

Robinson: Well, by the time—if you’re talking about me, by the time I reached the age of where those things became important, I—I got jobs. The first job that I had was, ironically, with the Pasco School District as—you know, I was a student—what do they call that? Oh, I sold ice cream during lunch hour. That was my first little paycheck. Oops. Take that back. My first job was with the Pasco School District, but it was as a janitor, because they had some kind of program—again, it was when—the ‘60s and so forth. So it was one of those social programs to give kids the opportunity to do work and earn some. So I was a janitor—a part-time janitor with the Pasco School District. Then I became the lunch—that was my senior year in high school, when I became the lunch guy. That was cool, because I got both lunch hours.  I sold ice cream. I was a senior and had all my credits, so it was kind of—my senior year in high school was kind of a picnic, if you will.

Franklin: And everybody likes the ice cream guy.

Robinson: Yeah. And then my first job out of high school was with the City of Pasco. I was a lifeguard. And then I worked at Grigg’s. I did not feel—and maybe it was because I was too young to know what was going on—but I did not feel any discrimination that way. Again, it could be because my family—you know, we talked about my mom a little bit. She was pretty well-known; our family was pretty well-known in the Tri-Cities at that time. Maybe it was because I was that Robinson kid. I don’t know. But I didn’t feel any of that. Educational opportunities—you had to leave town, because there was no WSU Tri-Cities at the time. You had to go out of town to go to college. I went to Eastern, myself—Eastern Washington State College. And then it became Eastern Washington University. Yeah. And then I am part of the first class to graduate from Eastern Washington University.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Robinson: Yeah, when I went up there it was Eastern Washington State College, and then they got the designation of university. So I’m in the first class that graduated from Eastern Washington University.

Franklin: That’s cool.

Robinson: Shows my age. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: And what did you get your college degree in?

Robinson: I got my degree in applied psychology. I got kind of a weird degree—undergraduate degree. My degree was in applied psychology, but I minored in education so that I could get a teaching certificate. I actually came back to Pasco and I taught school for a couple of years, which makes me the second black person to graduate from Pasco schools and then come back and teach. The first person to do that was a lady that I grew up with; her name was Angie Ash. Yeah. She also grew up in Pasco schools, graduated, and went to—I think she went to Eastern, too, if I recall. And she came back and taught school, too. She did all of that a couple of years before I did.

Franklin: Okay. And so you mentioned you ended up getting your teaching certificate.

Robinson: Yes.

Franklin: And then did you go on to school beyond that, or--?

Robinson: Yes, but it wasn’t until years later. I went and got my master’s degree in business administration. But I had left the area by then. All of that kind of stuff happened over in the Seattle area which is where I live now.

Franklin: Right. And what eventually—you mentioned you came back to Pasco for a few years; what eventually drew you out of the Tri-Cities?

Robinson: More opportunities for what I was trying to do. I taught school for a couple of years, but after I got to teaching school, I discovered that teaching in a classroom wasn’t really for me. I used to joke around and say, I was worse than the kids. ADHD and all—that’s all me. But I love working with kids. I worked with kids all the time. During the time when I stayed here in Pasco, I was doing a lot of things with kids, with young people. I coached women’s softball, my wife and I, we organized a black Junior Miss pageant. This was back in 1976 when we did a pageant. It was an opportunity—we saw it as an opportunity for black people in the Tri-Cities to express themselves culturally, and then also it was a vehicle for us to give scholarships away for young people. We did that for ten years, before we left the area. I left the area in 1986.

Franklin: Oh, that’s really wonderful. What kind of education did your parents have?

Robinson: They both got their GEDs. I remember—I am old enough to remember when that happened. They got their GEDs from CBC. My dad had a ninth grade education. He dropped out of school because he needed to go to work to help his mother. My mother had a third-grade education.

Franklin: Third-grade education!

Robinson: Yes, she dropped out of school because her mother got sick. She was the oldest child.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Robinson: So it was on her to take care of her family, her siblings. She was the oldest child of two sisters and a brother, and then they also were raising a cousin. And that cousin now lives here in the Tri-Cities.

Franklin: Wow. Is this when your mother was in Michigan?

Robinson: Yes, this was in Saginaw.

Franklin: What kind of work was available to her with just a third-grade education at that time?

Robinson: Well, when—

Franklin: What did she do to support her family?

Robinson: Well, by the time I came along—I was born in 1952—and by the time I came along, and when I was a little tyke, I remember that Mama would work at grocery stores, she was a checker and things like that. When we would live in Yakima, she worked at a little grocery store and so forth. When we lived in Walla Walla, I think she was a stay-at-home mom. When we moved back to the Tri-Cities, that is when she—and that was in 1963, when we moved back to the Tri-Cities for good—that’s when she started doing the social work things that became who she was as Virgie Robinson. She started a little Campfire group because she had three daughters. So she started a little Campfire group and so forth. And then she got hired on as a community liaison for an organization that was called Higher Horizons. She was a social worker and things like that. And then she got the job with the school district. But it was during that time when—I kind of think it was—I’m trying to—yeah, it was after we moved back to Pasco, and I remember when the two of them got their GED. Because they were jumping up and down. They were excited about getting their GED. I didn’t even know what a GED was. But I remember that. They were both—and they kind of got it at the same time.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Robinson: Yeah. So it was something that they were doing as adults, that they were—

Franklin: With kids.

Robinson: Yeah, with kids and all that kind of stuff. I mean, they didn’t set us down, because, me, I was the only one old enough. Because I had—I grew up with three little sisters. I was the only one that was old enough to remember, kind of, that stuff. But they never sat us down and told us, okay, we’re getting our GED and this, that and the other.

Franklin: But education was clearly pretty important to your—

Robinson: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.

Franklin: To your parents.

Robinson: Well, it was very important to them. It was very important for them to see their children get educated. And I can say, all of us have now gotten our degree in one form or another. So, yeah.

Franklin: Okay, so we’ve gotten through quite a bit of—Hazel Scott, that’s her name. The lady who was in the Greyhound bus station in 1940—

Robinson: Okay.

Franklin: She was a very famous entertainer in the 1940s, and played all around the US and Europe. That’s right.

Robinson: Okay. All right.

Franklin: I just remembered—I went down my questions, and I was like, oh yeah, the Hazel Scott case.

Robinson: Okay, well, it was that incident.

Franklin: Yeah. I looked through the files of that incident recently in the state archives. It was very—yeah, they really picked the wrong person, because she could afford a much better lawyer than the guys that owned the Greyhound bus station restaurant could.

Robinson: Absolutely, way out here in the boonies at the time. Because back then, this was way out in the middle of nowhere, the Tri-Cities. I mean, it’s still kind of isolated, but now we’ve got freeways all around. Back then, no, we were really isolated. I mean, I remember a trip to Seattle taking all day. Because it was all two-lane road between—the freeway—and I use that term generously—didn’t even start until after you come out of Cle Elum. And the house still sits there where the road would open up into what was called the freeway, which was, like I say, I use that term—[COUGH]—excuse me—generously, because it was just a four-lane highway, and they called that the freeway.

Franklin: Yeah, certainly nothing compared to over there on the west side.

Robinson: Oh, no.

Franklin: Okay, let’s see here. I think I have gone over most of my questions. I want to talk a bit about the modern-day impact of your parents. So you’re back in town for an event named after your mom, right?

Robinson: Well, yeah, we talked a little bit about the work that my mom did. When she passed away back in 2003, the Pasco School District was in this big building mode, because Pasco’s growing by leaps and bounds. At that time, you know, Pasco, I think, was the fastest growing city in the entire nation. So Pasco was building schools after schools after schools to accommodate all the kids that were coming in. So they decided to name one of their new elementary schools after my mom. So the Virgie Robinson Elementary School exists now. So what my sisters and I—I mentioned that I grew up with three little sisters—what we did, along with a niece that was also being raised with us, formed a non-profit organization called the Virgie Robinson Scholarship Fund. We give out scholarships to kids who went to that school, because it’s an elementary school, if kids go to that school when they are in elementary school, when they graduate from high school, they’re eligible to apply for a scholarship that we give. So it’s just a little niche of a school, because we don’t try to serve all the kids in the Pasco School District. Just those kids there. And so I’m in town, now, because I have a Board of Directors and so forth that’s based on counselors at Pasco High, Chiawana High, some other community people here. Our big fundraiser every year is an annual golf tournament and also a silent auction event. That’s how we raise funds to give out the scholarships. So I’m in town because I have a board meeting tomorrow to continue organizing that. We do that in April every year.

Franklin: You mentioned your dad worked at country clubs, so was he a big—I know golf is a major part of country clubs. Is that how you were introduced to golf or was he a big golfer?

Robinson: What’s funny about that is I’m not really a golfer. I’ve got a set of clothes that was given to me by my brother. I mentioned I was raised with three little sisters; I have an older brother and an older sister that were from my dad’s first marriage. My brother’s an avid golfer. My dad was a golfer, too; he was pretty good. He actually won a trophy. There’s a trophy in our house that Dad got. But golfing, per se, was for him, and not for me. I was into the regular sports at the time. You know, the football, basketball and baseball stuff. Because when I was coming up, golfing was square. This was before Tiger Woods and all of that. They wore funny pants. We used to say we would never wear those kinds of clothes: plaid pants and all that kind of stuff. So, today, I’m not a golfer. I go out every once in a while to the driving range. I’ve gotten to the place now where I can actually hit the ball straight. I think in my entire life, I may have played two, maybe three rounds of golf—you know, a whole thing. But I’m not a golfer. But I’m good at organizing stuff. So I’ve—with help—organized this golf tournament and so forth. Community events, I mean—maybe I inherited that from my mom. I’ve always organized community events. I mentioned a little earlier how I used to do things with kids, and we did that pageant and so forth. That was a community-wide event, too. A lot of people would come to that.

Franklin: That’s great. Is there anything else that you would like to mention, related to migration, segregation, civil rights, and how they impacted your life in the Tri-Cities?

Robinson: Well, like everybody else, during that time, we were gaining our consciousness as black people. Because, our history here in America is well-documented. When I came along, as a youngster, that consciousness was starting to form. We ceased being “colored”—“colored” with a small c. We migrated into “Colored,” with a big C, then we migrated into “Negroes.” And then we just—I don’t know who made the decision, but we just started to reclaim our African heritage. So thus the term African Americans. So, I was coming of age with all of that, that forethought and that thinking and so forth. When I went to college, I made sure that I took a lot of classes, just so I could learn a little bit more about our history as a people in this country, to go beyond Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois. There’s a whole lot more to it than just that. There’s Carter G. Woodson and so forth. Inventors that were going. People that invented the—what is it? The telephone transmitter. That Alexander Graham Bell made big. But it was actually invented by a black man. I think his name was Granville T. Woods, was his name. The gentleman that invented the stoplight and stuff. We were never taught that kind of stuff in regular school. So I made sure that when I was in school that I took classes so that I could learn about that.

Franklin: Wow, that’s great. Well, Rickie, thank you very much for coming and interviewing with us today and telling us about your life in the Tri-Cities and your parents and their struggles and triumphs.

Robinson: Yeah, well, thank you. Thanks for having me. My life growing up in the Tri-Cities, I have very fond memories here of growing up in the Tri-Cities. So, in spite of all the little stuff that happens, this is still my home.

Franklin: Great. Okay. Thank you.

Robinson: All right. Thank you.

Hanford Sites

B Plant

Years in Tri-Cities Area

1952-1986

Files

Robinson, Rickie.JPG

Citation

“Interview with Rickie Robinson,” Hanford History Project, accessed March 30, 2020, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/2050.

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