Old Gold: Rare gift takes viewers back in time

Old Gold: Rare gift takes viewers back in time

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Scrapbook documents 1920s African-American student life
Page from a 1920s scrapbookFriends of 1927 UI graduate Patrobas Cassius Robinson gather on the steps of Old Capitol. Image from Patrobas Cassius Robinson Papers (RG 02.0009.023), University Archives, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

(Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through materials housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections.)

Glimpses of life from an earlier time are, to Old Gold, fascinating. When they document the lives of individuals who have been long overlooked, they become captivating. A scrapbook bearing the name of a 1927 alumnus of the State University of Iowa (SUI), acquired by the University Archives in 2010, offers an insightful trip back in time.

Page from a 1920s scrapbook
Patrobas Cassius Robinson, about 1927. Image from Patrobas Cassius Robinson Papers (RG 02.0009.023), University Archives, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

In 1923, 17-year-old Patrobas Cassius Robinson enrolled at SUI, majoring in biochemistry. He was awarded the Bachelor of Science degree four years later. During the intervening years, the St. Louis, Mo., native kept a record of his time in Iowa City with a scrapbook, offering a rare glimpse into African-American student life at Iowa during the 1920s.

No one maintained statistics on the racial or ethnic composition of Iowa’s student body at that time, but because of limited opportunities there were certainly far fewer blacks enrolled compared with today’s numbers. Iowa’s first African-American professor, Philip G. Hubbard, joined the College of Engineering faculty in 1947, 20 years after Robinson’s graduation.

After graduating, Robinson embarked upon dual careers in teaching and in real estate in his home city. From 1927 until 1963, he taught science classes at high schools in St. Louis. He also founded the P.C. Robinson Realty Company in 1945, managing it for 35 years until retiring in 1980. He was also a real estate appraiser. Robinson died Feb. 27, 1984, at age 78.

The scrapbook contains photographs, a friend’s artwork, a register of Robinson’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers, and other material. It was in Robinson’s family at the time of his death, but by 2010 made its way to a Boston rare book dealer. That year, Hal and Avril Chase of Des Moines, longtime supporters of the UI Libraries, learned that the Robinson scrapbook was up for sale and made a gift to the UI Libraries that enabled the Department of Special Collections and University Archives to purchase the scrapbook and accompanying documents, which were digitally reformatted recently by Libraries staff.

Page from a 1920s scrapbook
Spring party, May 1926. Image from Patrobas Cassius Robinson Papers (RG02.0009.023), University Archives, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

In honor of Black History Month, this rare collection of photographs and related documents is now online as part of the Iowa Digital Library, which features more than one million digital objects created from the holdings of the UI Libraries and its campus partners.

Contacts

David McCartney, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, 319-335-5921

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