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Mr. Cleveland Robinson is a native of Jamaica, West Indies, where he received his elementary education at the Ebenezer Public School and through private studies in the parish of Manchester. He then proceeded to pass his third year Pupil/Teacher examination. For a time he served as assistant teacher in the school. After leaving the position he served the Jamaica Police Force for ten years, and upon resigning he immigrated to the United States in 1944 at the age of 30, where he joined his mother and took up residence in New York City. He later applied for and received his American Citizenship.
In 1946 he led the organization of his shop into District 65 while a Shop Steward and joined the staff in February 1947. His dedication and hard work earned him the respect of his fellow workers and by 1950 he was elected to the top post of Vice-President and in 1952 to the second highest position in the union, Secretary-Treasurer, a position which he still holds.
He served as International Vice-President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to which 65 was affiliated, and in 1969 when District 65 and a number of other Locals of that International seceded and founded an Independent Union, the Distributive Workers of America. He was elected as National President and served in that capacity through 1979 when D.W.A. dissolved and affiliated with the United Auto Workers.
Throughout his entire career, not only has Mr. Robinson been an effective organizer, negotiator and conscientious leader of the union, but he has also been a stalwart fighter for civil rights, human rights and for peace. In the early fifties he joined in the formation of the National Negro Labor Council together with Bill Hood of the U.A.W. and Coleman Young, now Mayor of Detroit, pressing for jobs and fair employment practices. In the 1950’s he worked with veteran labor leader, A. Philip Randolph, to organize marches and pilgrimages to Washington, D.C. for job rights. He, together with Randolph, was one of the founders of the Negro American Labor Council, an organization of Black Trade Unionists which in the early 60’s waged an effective struggle against racism within the labor movement as well as in industry and government.
He assumed the Presidency of the Council upon Randolph’s resignation in 1966. He is a supporter of, and carries a lifelong membership in the N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for Advancement of Colored People).
One of the founding members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the successor to N.A.L.C., he serves as First Vice-President and continues to give of his experience and talent to build what is now the most effective organization of Black Trade Unionists in the United States.
A close friend and supporter of the late Dr. martin Luther King, Jr., he and his union gave consistent support to Dr. King’s Research Committee and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.
He was the Administrative Chairman of the 1963 historic march in Washington, and again on the observation of the 20th anniversary of the historic occasion, he was one of the Conveners and played a major role in mobilizing for the 20th Anniversary march.
His deep commitment for human rights, for social economic justice and for national priorities and policies which would bring about equality, decent jobs and peace has brought him in contact with many organizations and personalities who share these views and his contributions in these areas is a matter of history. In supporting peoples’ struggles he has joined with organizations in support of Israel and of national liberation movements in Africa, West Indies, Central America and else-where.
In the City of New York he was appointed Commissioner of the New York Commission on Human Rights by both Mayors Wagner and Lindsay, where he served for some nine years. He has been the recipient of many awards from various organizations and institutions a s a testament of their high esteem and appreciation of his contributions to the struggle for human rights.
Mr. Robinson’s anti-apartheid record of activities is well known. The August 13, 1985, mass demonstration at the United nations and the most recent July 14, 1986, march and rally were the result of his projection and guidance. He currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission in the State of New York by appointment of Governor Mario Cuomo.