Max Robinson

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Max Robinson
Robinson on ABC World News Tonight, 1979.
Maxie Cleveland Robinson, Jr.[1]

(1939-05-01)May 1, 1939[2][3]
DiedDecember 20, 1988(1988-12-20) (aged 49)[4][5][6]
Cause of deathComplications from AIDS[5][2]
Resting placeLincoln Memorial Cemetery
Suitland, Maryland, U.S.
EducationIndiana University
Oberlin College
Virginia Union University
OccupationTelevision journalist
Years active1959–1985[2]
Notable credit(s)First African–American broadcast news anchor, ABC World News Tonight.[6]
Eleanor Booker
(m. 1963; div. 1968)

(m. 1974; ann. 1975)

Beverly Hamilton
(m. 1977; div. 1985)
FamilyRandall Robinson (brother)

Maxie Cleveland "Max" Robinson, Jr.[1] (May 1, 1939[2][3] – December 20, 1988)[4][5] was an American broadcast journalist, most notably serving as co-anchor on ABC World News Tonight alongside Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings from 1978 until 1983.[2][6] Robinson is noted as the first African-American broadcast network news anchor in the United States.[4][1][7] Robinson was a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.[8]


Early life and education[edit]

Robinson was born the second of four children (his siblings were his sister Jewell, who became a teacher; his brother Randall, a Harvard-educated lawyer; and his sister Jean, a publicist)[9] to Maxie, a teacher[2] and Doris Robinson in Richmond, Virginia.[1] The schools in Richmond were still segregated when he attended them;[10] after graduating from Armstrong High School, Robinson attended Oberlin College,[1] where he was freshman class president; however, he stayed there for only a year and a half and did not graduate.[11] Robinson briefly served in the United States Air Force and was assigned to the Russian Language School at Indiana University before receiving a medical discharge. He began working in radio early on, including a short time at WSSV-AM in Petersburg, Virginia, where he called himself "Max the Player," and later at WANT-AM, Richmond.[citation needed]


Robinson began his television career in 1959, when he was hired for a news job at WTOV-TV in Portsmouth, Virginia.[3] Robinson had to read the news while hidden behind a slide of the station's logo. One night, Robinson had the slide removed, and was fired the next day.[12] He later went to WRC-TV in Washington, DC, and stayed for three years, winning six journalism awards for coverage of civil-rights events such as the riots that followed the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was during this time that Robinson won two regional Emmys for a documentary he made on black life in Anacostia entitled The Other Washington. In 1969, Robinson joined the Eyewitness News team at WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV) in Washington, D.C.[2] Robinson was teamed with anchor Gordon Peterson, becoming the first African-American anchor on a local television news program, and the newscast took off. During that time, he was so well-liked by viewers that when Hanafi Muslims took hostages at the B'nai B'rith building in Washington they would speak only with Robinson.[citation needed]

ABC News and World News Tonight[edit]

In 1978, when Roone Arledge was looking to revamp ABC News' nightly news broadcast into World News Tonight, he remembered Robinson from a 60 Minutes interview, and hired him to be a part of his new three-anchor format. Robinson would anchor national news from Chicago, while Peter Jennings would anchor international news in London and Frank Reynolds would be the main anchor from Washington. Robinson thus became the first black man to anchor a nightly network news broadcast. The three-man co-anchor team was a ratings success, and launched spoofs regarding how the three would pitch stories to each other during the telecast by saying the other's name: "Frank"..."Max"...."Peter," etc.

Robinson's ABC tenure was marked by conflicts between himself and the management of ABC News over viewpoints and the portrayal of Black America in the news. He was known by his co-workers to show up late for work or sometimes not show up at all, along with his moods, and his use of alcohol escalated. In addition, Robinson was known to fight racism at any turn and often felt unworthy of the admiration he received and was not pleased with what he had accomplished. Together with Bob Strickland, Robinson established a program for mentoring young black broadcast journalists.[13]

During most of Robinson's tenure, ABC News used the Westar satellite to feed Robinson's segment of WNT from Chicago to New York. TVRO receiver earth stations were also coming into use at the time, and anyone who knew where to find the satellite feeds could view the feed. On the live feed, Robinson could be seen to have a drink or two, but never during the actual aired segment, which led some bars around the country to even have drink specials during the nearly 90 minutes, and invited patrons to come in and see the "Max 'R'" feed. ABC eventually caught on to what was happening, and even resorted to hide what was going on by supering a slide with the words "ABC News Chicago" on the screen during the live feed during times that Robinson was not live over the actual WNT broadcast. In addition, Robinson could often be seen being harsh towards those who worked around him during the live feed.[14] Reynolds died in 1983, and shortly afterward Jennings was named sole anchor of World News Tonight. Robinson was relegated to the weekend anchor post, as well as reading hourly news briefs. He left ABC in 1983, and joined WMAQ-TV in Chicago in March 1984; he was the station's first black anchor. But his tenure with the station was rocky, and he had conflicts with some of his colleagues. He was also frequently absent.[15] Robinson retired in 1985.[2]

Personal life[edit]


Robinson was married three times. Two ended in divorce, one in annulment. His first marriage was to Eleanor Booker from 1963 to 1968 and they had three children: Mark, Maureen and Michael. His second marriage was to Hazel O'Leary from 1974 to 1975. Robinson's final marriage was to Beverly Hamilton from 1977 to 1986, with whom he had another son, Malik. Robinson was the older brother of Randall Robinson.

Health and death[edit]

Robinson was found to have AIDS while he was hospitalized for pneumonia in Blue Island, Illinois,[6] but he kept it a secret, refusing to discuss it, despite widespread rumors about why his health was deteriorating.[7] In the fall of 1988, Robinson was in Washington to deliver a speech at Howard University's School of Communications when he became increasingly ill. Robinson checked himself into Howard University Hospital where he died of complications due to AIDS on December 20, 1988.[5][16] He had asked that his family reveal that he had AIDS so that, according to the new reports, “Others in the black community would be alerted to the dangers and the need for treatment and education.”[17] He was buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Max Robinson". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 2, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Holson, Laura M. (June 19, 2015). "Max Robinson, a Largely Forgotten Trailblazer for Black Anchors". The New York Times. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Watson, Elwood. "Max Robinson (1939–1988)". Retrieved February 2, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Gerald, Jeremy (December 21, 1988). "Max Robinson, 49, First Black To Anchor Network News, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d Cuniberti, Betty (December 22, 1988). "Max Robinson's Silent Struggle With AIDS". LA Times. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Warren, James (May 18, 1989). "Max Robinson: Fallen Star ('He'd Seemed Special And Strong -and He Had Destroyed Himself. Why?)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 2, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Hall, Carla (May 26, 1988). "The Rise, and Dizzying Fall, of Max Robinson". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  8. ^ NABJ Founders.
  9. ^ Jamison, Harold L., "Max Robinson, Pioneer Anchorman, Dies at 49", (New York) Amsterdam News, December 24, 1988, p. 3.
  10. ^ "Pioneer News Anchor Dead." (Newport News VA) Daily Press, December 21, 1988, p. 4.
  11. ^ Ziegler, Dhyana, "Max Robinson, Jr.: Turbulent Life of a Media Prophet." Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1 (September 1989), p. 98.
  12. ^ Matusow, Barbara, The Evening Stars / The Making of the Network News Anchor, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983, p. 242.
  13. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (October 4, 2008). "TV Reporter Bob Strickland; Covered Barry Arrest, Riots". The Washington Post. p. B6. Retrieved October 6, 2008.
  14. ^ Cooper, Robert B., Jr (2006). Television's Pirates: Hiding Behind Your Picture Tube. Mangonui, Far North New Zealand: Far North Cablevision, Ltd. ISBN 0-9777980-2-X.
  15. ^ Daley, Steve, "Max Robinson, 1st Black to Anchor Network News." Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1988, p. 14.
  16. ^ Cuniberti, Betty (December 22, 1988). "Max Robinson's Silent Struggle With AIDS". LA Times. Retrieved November 21, 2018.
  17. ^ Rosenzweig, Leah (30 November 2018). "Cause of Death: Uncovering the hidden history of AIDS on the New York Times obituary page". Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  18. ^ Van Dyne, Larry (2007-08-01). "Into the Sunset: Arrangements and Options for the Afterlife". Washingtonian.

6.^Grogan, David, "Spilling Secrets." People Magazine. January 31, 1994:4.Print.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by ABC World News Tonight anchor
with Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings
Succeeded by