Bibb Graves Hall renamed to honor university’s hero Jo Ann Robinson



The Alabama State University Board of Trustees voted to rename the residence hall formerly known as Bibb Graves Hall during its September meeting. The 93-year-old residence hall will now be known as Jo Ann Gibson Robinson Hall. Jo Ann Gibson Robinson was an activist in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Despite her efforts to stay out of the limelight, she was arrested but never tried.

Camille Zanders, Senior Staff Reporter/Writer

The oldest residence hall on campus, formerly known as Bibb Graves Hall, has a new name.  The Alabama State University Board of Trustees officially approved the renaming of the residence hall to Jo Ann Gibson Robinson Hall, an activist of the American civil rights movement and university legend. 

Becoming effective during the spring 2022 semester, Robinson Hall will aid in conveying the principles of courage, innovation, and faith.  By renaming this residence hall, members of the Housing Department, along with ASU’s best historians, hope to continue educating students and the community on Robinson’s role in African American history. 

“The university was looking at what some of the buildings were named and how they represented the institution as a whole,” said Rakesha Hines, Ph.D., Director of Housing and Residential Life. “With the name Jo Ann Robinson and what she represents, it just all falls in place.”

The building, formerly known as Bibb Graves Hall, was built in 1928 under the auspices of former Alabama Gov. David Bibb Graves. Serving as the 38th governor of the state, Graves is particularly noted as being one of the most educated governors in Alabama history, as well as his close affiliation with the Klu Klux Klan. He used his position as Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan to win much of that powerful voting bloc in 1926.

Despite this obvious evidence of prejudice, there is a building or monument dedicated to Graves at every public university in the state. However, the recent criticism and removal of historical monuments around the country have led to public calls for the university to change the name of the hallmark building at the university’s main entrance.

The Bibb Graves Hall nameplate was removed during the fall 2020 semester.

“There are some other names that we considered, but truly we did not seriously consider them,” said Howard Robinson, archivist of the Levi Watkins Learning Center. “This has been something that we have talked about for several years now.”

Junior Emani Turner, a resident of the hall, commented, “I think it is a good fit because of what it was, and what it represented … Based on that history, I feel like changing it to something new, regardless of the name, is always better.”

As mentioned on the university website, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson served the community as a professor, civil rights activist, and member of the Women’s Political Council. Along with her work within the university, Robinson also advocated for an increase in recreational opportunities and police protection for the Black community before various city government officials. She is most commonly known for her involvement in the organization of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for which she planned routes, made fliers, and spread the word.

“We have wanted to recognize Miss JoAnn Robinson because she stands apart,” said Janice Franklin, Ed.D., Dean of the Levi Watkins Learning Center, as she explains that the renaming of the hall is not a new idea. “It was an anomaly to have a woman who could be that strong among a group of other outstanding men, who could have in their own right been recognized as we are suggesting with her. During that particular time in history, for her to be a professor here at ASU and also equally immersed in the efforts for equality and civil rights has really distinguished her.”

Though Robinson’s impact is undeniable, it is unfortunate that many students fail to understand who she was and all she represented. While they do support the removal of Bibb Graves, they cannot fully appreciate the Jo Ann Gibson Robinson name.

“If I am going to be honest with you, I do not even know who that is,” said junior Ayiana Wacts, a resident of the hall.  She wishes the student body were given an opportunity to have input in the renaming process so they could truly appreciate the figure they are meant to honor.  “I did not know that they were about to change it. So I guess I would say it would be an easier decision if they had run it by the students. Also, for the people like me, who do not know who she is, to explain who she is.” 

This opinion is shared by senior Alandrius Bolden, who is also a resident. 

“I did not know [the history behind the Bibb Graves name] until they changed it,” she said.  “I do not know how many people did know, but I guess for the people that did know that [the name change] would be a positive thing.”

This is an ignorance that the university hopes to solve. By naming the hall after JoAnn Robinson, the faculty of ASU plans to deepen the campus knowledge of not only the university’s role in Civil Rights history but also in women’s history.

“Even though there were men at the forefront of the civil rights movement, it was women behind the scenes doing the work,” Hines said. “Hopefully, it just opens up dialogue about women during that time.”

Dorothy Autrey, Ph.D., retired chair of the department of history and political science, is also excited about its impact on campus. 

“Jo Ann Robinson’s story has not too long been in publication about the civil rights movements and ASU’s involvement in the bus boycott. A lot of people have never heard of her, but to have the name changed from a former white governor, who was a KKK ‘head honcho’, to Robinson, that is a whole new cast and image placed over the university.”