Questions still haunt death of Texas civil rights hero-Part 1
Dorothy Robinson returned to her home in Palestine, Texas for the first time since her husband Frank’s funeral. Dorothy said that was when she saw and spoke to her husband’s ghost.
“I don’t believe in ghosts either, but it looked like he came down the hall and stood at the bedroom door and said, ‘Darling, it’s a lie.’ And I said, as clearly as I’m talking to you, I said, ‘You don’t need to tell me, I know you didn’t kill yourself,'” Robinson said.
Days earlier, on October 14, 1976, the body of Frank J Robinson was found on the floor of their garage. There was a shotgun at his feet and the top of his head had been blown off. His body had been there for a full day before it was discovered.
The question then and now is, did Frank J. Robinson kill himself? Or was he killed? But why would anyone do that? Perhaps, because Robinson was making a lot of “good trouble.”
For decades Robinson had organized black voters in East Texas. He successfully sued Anderson County over its anti-Black Gerrymandered maps. It also forced the Palestine Municipal Council to adopt single-member districts. A week later he was found dead.
In 1995 Dorothy recorded an oral history and said the 74-year-old frequently received threatening anonymous phone calls.
“He said these words many, many, many times. He’d say ‘Girl, if they kill me now, they’ve done nothing but kill an old man, because I’ve done almost everything I can do.’ Now, that might have been his way of letting me know that he had some fears,” she said.
Robinson’s death was initially reported in newspapers across the state as a homicide, but days later Palestinian Police Chief Kenneth Barry said it was a suicide. Texas civil rights leaders disagreed. They said it was a KKK-style assassination. They wanted the FBI to investigate. But instead, there was a public inquiry. This is a rare trial where a jury decides the cause of death.
“There was such outrage in the black community there that John Hill, who was the Texas attorney general, asked them to empanel a grand jury,” said Dave Richards, a civil rights attorney who won a case. historic suffrage case before the US Supreme Court and won the Robinson v. Black amusement case. He is also the ex-husband of Governor Ann Richards. Dorothy called on Richards to represent the family.
“Mrs. Robinson wanted me to come for that session. An official can order a coroner’s jury, which is a jury trial on the issue of cause of death,” he said.
Richards remembers the investigation as a farce.
“We had a courtroom full of people. And my recollection is that they hired some, we thought bogus psychiatrist, I believe, from Rusk State Hospital, who was there in that vicinity, and who testified that Robinson’s pattern of behavior was very indicative of a suicide based on nothing. any of us could understand,” Richards said.
The inquest lasted four days and included testimony from 35 witnesses – most of which were contradictory. Some of the most important witness testimony was contradicted by the polygraph results. A neighbor testified that Robinson never talked about suicide, but a polygraph examiner said she wasn’t telling the truth. This would be inadmissible in most Texas trials – because polygraphs are unreliable and there can be bias in their interpretation.
The six-member jury ruled that Robinson died by his own hand. But that would not be the end of it. Robinson’s supporters denounced the decision.
“Nobody in the black community in Palestine ever thought it was anything other than a Klan killing,” Richards said.
The official disclosure of the suicide had one major flaw: there were witnesses.