By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Growing up in the rural South, Clinton Robinson Sr. didn’t expect to see much beyond the 200-acre farm he and 12 siblings called home in Mobile, Alabama. Then his number came up and he was drafted into the U.S. Navy and his world expanded.
“That was quite an experience,” he said. “I was born and raised on the farm, in the country and when I got to the Navy, I was going overseas to a bunch of those islands over there,” said the proud War World II veteran.
He spent nearly three years in the service.
Before turning 100 on Feb. 13, Robinson Sr. sat down with The OBSERVER to reflect on his life and longevity. Some of the memories have been lost to time and others, to his family’s delight, he was able to recall over the years. Many were shared over hearty, home cooked meals. The stories are cherished and some were recorded by Clinton Robinson Jr.
“I used to ask him questions all the time, but it was like pulling teeth all the time because my dad and all his brothers and sisters, none of them were big talkers,” said the younger Robinson.
While his siblings all had long lives, Robinson Sr. is the last of them and the only one to reach 100. The past 100 years have seen struggle and triumph for African Americans. Movements from civil rights to Black Lives Matter have advanced the cause for equality and inclusion. In that time, the military was integrated and Blacks such as Colin Powell rose to high-ranking positions.
People have been to outer space, including African Americans such as Guy Bluford and Mae Jemison. And two Black people – President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris – have served in the White House instead of serving others in the White House.
Born in 1923, Robinson Sr. was a child during the Great Depression of the 1930s. His family often asks what that time was like. His answer, “What Depression?” Life on the farm provided them with what they needed, he said.
“Whatever we raised on the farm, we ate it and whatever we ate, we raised it,” he said.
While he has traveled the world, the local elder’s southern roots and sensibilities have served him well. His formula for longevity is quite simple.
“Trying to treat everybody right and asking the Lord to help me make it this far,” said Robinson Sr., who has been a member of Shiloh Baptist Church since 1966.
Family is important to the Robinsons, who gathered at the McClellan Officer’s Club at the Lion’s Gate Hotel last week to celebrate the new centenarian, who had seven sons and a daughter. All but one of his children are living. He remembers living in Mobile with his wife and all eight children in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home. The family moved to Sacramento when Robinson Sr. was transferred from the closing Brookley Air Force Base in Alabama, to McClellan Air Force Base, where he worked nights as a janitor.
Robinson Sr. remembers clear as a bell retiring in December 1983. After that, he enjoyed fishing and hanging out with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They’ve lost count of just how many there are, and great-greats beyond that, but the Robinsons are happy their patriarch is still around. Four generations helped the centenarian celebrate his milestone birthday, with guests expected from throughout California, Alabama and Michigan.