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Theotis Robinson Jr. honored at Knoxville Area Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Awards Gala

October 23, 2015

Oct. 22, 2015

For more information
Contact: Natalie Bailey
Moxley Carmichael
(865) 544-0088


Theotis Robinson Jr., one of the first students to desegregate the University of Tennessee – and who would later become a UT vice president – received the prestigious Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement award at the Knoxville Area Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Awards Gala on Oct. 22 at the Knoxville Convention Center.

“We are honored to recognize Theotis for his life’s work,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO for the Knoxville Area Urban League. “From his first days at UT as a student and throughout his 25-year career, he was a fearless pioneer and an advocate who made a tremendous impact to eliminate disparities that existed in higher education in the state of Tennessee. He continues to be a tireless advocate for equality and diversity.”

Robinson registered for classes at Tennessee on Jan. 3, 1961, with Charles Edgar Blair, a fellow Austin High graduate. After earlier being denied admission, Robinson requested and received a personal meeting with President Andy Holt, who told him the issue would have to be settled by the Board of Trustees. Robinson indicated he would sue if denied admission. The Board of Trustees sought an opinion from the state Attorney General before adopting a policy against racial discrimination at a specially called meeting in November of 1960.

Robinson retired from the university after 25 years of service, the last 14 as vice president and member of the UT System Administration executive team.

The Whitney M. Young Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award is the most prestigious of all Urban League awards. It is named in honor of the fourth executive director of the National Urban League, Whitney M. Young Jr., who served from 1961 to 1971.

Past winners include Rita Geier in 2014; Dr. Harold A. Middlebrook Sr. in 2013; Love Kitchen sisters Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner in 2011; and author, historian and former legislator Robert Booker in 2008.

Other annual award winners in 2015 included:

  • Volunteer of the Year – National Achievers Society Advisory Board
  • Minority Business – East Tennessee Mechanical Contractors, Mark Deathridge
  • Corporate Leadership – Randy Boyd, Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development

“Alongside a sellout crowd, we also enjoyed entertainment from James ‘JT’ Taylor, formerly of Kool and The Gang,” Nichols said. “We know the community looks forward to our entertainment every year, and we danced the night away to Taylor’s classics.”

About the Knoxville Area Urban League

The Knoxville Area Urban League, founded in 1968 and an affiliate of the National Urban League, promotes equal opportunities for African Americans and disadvantaged others. There are more than 100 affiliates of the National Urban League located in 35 states and the District of Columbia providing direct services to more than 2 million people nationwide through programs, advocacy and research.

For more information on the Knoxville Area Urban League and its programs, call 865-524-5511 or visit