James H. Robinson's Influence on Me and Many Others



I met Jim Robinson in 1955 as a Williams College student. I went to work camps at the two camps he ran in Winchester, NH, and worked at Camp Rabbit Hollow during the summer of 1956. The experience was more major for me than anything previous. It made me fully committed to the inherent universalism I now believe we all possess. It made me color-blind. I never went through any liberal guilt or political correctness phase. I simply accepted people as people and that truth was validated by my relationships then and since then. The experience meant that, by a process of elimination, I was unable to avoid the conclusion that I should go on to Union Theological Seminary. I did not know Jim as pastor of the Church of the Master but as a man who had become one of the most influential persons ever on the college circuit, having the same effect on countless others as he had on me. I believe Jim did more for the civil rights movement than many who are properly celebrated today. He was a bridge figure.  My impressions of Jim's Church in Harlem were formed largely in recent years when I looked into its history. Jim came there as a Union Seminary graduate who was encouraged by Harry Emerson Fosdick to take on the revival of the parish. He succeeded and earned nationwide recognition as a preacher and pastor. My going to Williams was a major decision. Once there I was seriously alienated from the place. The move toward Jim and his way of other-centered service and justice appealed to me. I eventually resigned my fraternity and lived with the then-Williams chaplain Bill Coffin and his wide Eva Rubenstein. Their house was shot up by irate fraternity members. They narrowly missed Amy Coffin who had recently joined the family as their first child.

It can be said that these years at Williams confirmed the course I have been on since.

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