YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ella Robinson was born in Marion, Alabama in 1918. Back then, she was EllaRee Turner, the seventh of 14 children. Now she is the only one still alive.
Her father was a miner at a time when life for blacks in Alabama was tough. In 1926, the Turner’s joined the great migration and headed north.
“After his older brother came to Youngstown, they encouraged him to come,” she said.
Robinson worked as a domestic, graduated from Rayen High School and at 18, got married. She had one daughter, who died five years ago. Now she has three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
“I was married to a person named Charles Robinson, who was a member of a prominent family.”
Prominent indeed. Charles’ father was Clarence Robinson.
“Everybody knew Clarence Robinson because he became a very successful attorney.”
Clarence was also an early civil rights leader and a descendant of famed architect P. Ross Berry, an early leader of Youngstown’s Black Community.
Overt racism in Youngstown before 1970 has been well documented. Blacks had the worst jobs in the mills, couldn’t swim in white pools and had to sit in the balconies of movie theaters.
“The blacks did not have the opportunity that other racial groups did.”
In 1968, Robinson was asked to join four other women to speak on prejudices; her comments were published in a newspaper article. On discrimination, she was quoted as saying that her mother always said “things will be different someday.”
She also told the story of how she applied for an executive position at a women’s apparel shop and was told it was against local store policy to hire blacks.
Robinson also talked about her church, St. Augustine Episcopal, which is Youngstown’s only black church still in its original location and structure. It was a big part of her life. For many years, she was a senior warden. She called the church a savior for the black people.
“We would not have been made aware of things had it not been for the black church.”
Robinson is real-life history: a woman who lived through the segregation of Alabama and the discrimination of Youngstown, who, at 97, is still willing and able to tell her story.