Jennie Smith (1863-1940)
"The Mother of Robbins"
Community Organizer & Entrepreneur
In 1892, Jennie Smith, a widow with two young daughters, left Missouri for a better life in Illinois. She was among the first black families to settle in a small section of unincorporated, Bremen Township,IL (nick-named "The Bottom") near the Rock Island R.R. tracks. She saw a great need for a house of worship. She organized the community to build two houses of worship Union M.B. Church (1903) and Bethel AME Church (1904). In 1917 she helped with the incorporation of the Village of Robbins, IL. As a civic leader and entrepreneur, she built a garage that sheltered Robbins' first fire truck, She helped build homes for new comers to the village (some of which stands today); She built two grocery stores and one restaurant; two boarding houses that housed black men who helped construct the historic Cal-Sag Canal; She organized the first Women's Improvement Club of Robbins; Jennie personally knew and was supported by Robert R. McCormick founder of the Chicago Tribune enterprise. Jennie, with Robert McCormick's connections was able to slow-down the trains near her store and throw out food supplies to stock her stores. Prior to that, she would take a horse drawn cart downtown to Marshall Fields (a full day's trip) to purchase items on behalf of local businesses. This is why she is known as "The Mother of Robbins".
James Harvey (1845-1945)
Black Civil War Soldier settled in Robbins, IL
Born in 1845 James Harvey was the last documented black Civil War soldier in the United States who after the war married and moved his family north settling in unincorporated Robbins, IL in 1892. His son,Wm Harvey, was appointed Robbins first Fire Chief in 1917 when Robbins was formerly Incorporated. In 1945 James Harvey died in Robbins at the age of 100.
A special headstone now rest on his grave site at the Historic Lincoln Cemetery near Robbins.
Janet Harmon Bragg (1907-1993)
The 2nd Blk Woman Pilot in the world
Janet was one of the 4 aviators that help build and operated the first black owned airport in the United States, The Robbins Airport in 1931. The airport had a flight ground school, air and mechanical aviation training classes were taught by John C. Robinson (1903-1954) and Cornelius R. Coffey (1903-1992). The first two airplanes for the school were purchased
by Janet H. Bragg who was also a registered nurse who own and operated two convalescent nursing homes. She is the first black woman to earn a
Transport Pilot's licence. Her last private airplane is
on display at the PIMA Museum near Tucson, Arizona.
John C. Robinson (1903-1954)
Co-founder and builder of the 1931 Robbins Airport
The "Brown Condor" of Eithopia & Robbins
This 1924 Tuskegee Institute graduate was one of the two principle founders of the Robbins, IL Airport and one of the first to introduce an aviation program to his alma mater. Robinson & his partner C.R. Coffey integrated the prestigious Curtiss-Wright aviation school in Chicago where they both earned their Pilots and Mechanical licence. At the request of HRH. Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Robinson was asked to come to Ethiopia to train pilots and build the Ethiopian Air force to fight against fascism in the second Italo-Ethiopian War. He was known as the Brown Condor. Robinson return to Chicago to a heros welcome by thousands of New Yorkers and Chicagoans. Later return to Ethiopia where he made his home as a national hero, died in 1954 and he was buried in Ethiopia was his last request.
Cornelius R. Coffey (1903-1994)
Built the Robbins Airport in 1931
C.R.Coffey and J.C. Robinson professional auto-mechanics intergrated Chicago's Curtiss-Wright Aviation school in 1929 and also became professional Aviation mechanics and Pilots. In 1931 with the financial help of Janet H. Bragg they built, opened, and operated the first black Airport in the U.S. in Robbins, IL where they train blacks to become Pilots and aviation mechanics. Training more than 300 new pilots many who became Tuskegee Airmen .Coffey later invented the first Carburetor Heater for airplanes and is the only black to receive the Charles A. Taylor Aviation Mechanic's award.
Thyrl Latting (1932-2013)
With national and international notoriety, as a Rodeo Cowboy showcasing horses and cow Rodeos shows locally and Internationally for many years. All started from Robbins, IL., his birth home and site of his first Ranch Estate.
UNIA Founder and leader of Pan African Movement
This pan africanist leader spent a significant amount of time in Robbins, IL in the early 1920's, setting up a chapter of his United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and engaging with the all-black led town. His administrative office was located on the second floor of a building located on Claire Blvd at 139th. He worked closely with locals to organize a UNIA chapter in Robbins and met one of his strongest supporters and later his speech writer Elinor White. Edward Brown prominent citizen in Robbins was appointed the first President of Garvey's UNIA Chapter in Robbins.