Theotis Robinson Jr. is Knoxville legend

Lesli Bales-SherrodWest Knox County

The first Black man to enroll at the University of Tennessee as an undergraduate will speak at Pellissippi State Community College in honor of Black History Month.

Theotis Robinson Jr., a trailblazer and advocate for equality for more than 60 years, will talk with Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. during February’s “Conversation with a Legend” event on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held Tuesday, Feb. 13, at noon in the Goins Building Auditorium, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville. It also will be livestreamed on Zoom.

“Theotis Robinson Jr. was an advocate for justice and equality even before he was one of the first African American students to integrate the University of Tennessee in January 1961,” Wise said. “His education prepared him for a lifetime of service to our community and the university; his legacy is a powerful for all students in our state.”

RSVP here to attend.

“These conversation events utilizing guest speakers provide a platform for students to engage with various cultural traditions and promote social interaction, ultimately enriching their overall educational experience,” said Lauren Ziegler, Pellissippi State’s cultural engagement coordinator.

When he was a senior in high school, Robinson attempted to enroll in the all-white Knoxville East High School and became a plaintiff in a lawsuit to desegregate the city’s public school system in 1959. He also participated in lunch counter sit-in demonstrations in protest of Knoxville’s all-white eating establishments.

Robinson later applied for admission to the University of Tennessee but was rejected due to race. Following a meeting with the university president where he threatened to sue, Robinson was admitted and began classes on January 4, 1961. His actions allowed Black undergraduate students to attend.

Robinson went on to have a successful career, serving over the years on Knoxville City Council, as vice president of Economic Development for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and as vice president of Equity and Diversity for the University of Tennessee System.

For information on other Black History Month events happening at Pellissippi State, visit

Lesli Bales-Sherrod, public relations specialist, Pellissippi State Community College


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