Robinson, first African-American to attend UT, speaks with Wise at Pellissippi St. Feb. 13

The first African-American man to attend the University of Tennessee will speak at Pellissippi State Community College in honor of Black History Month. 

Dr. Theotis Robinson Jr., a trailblazer and advocate for equality for more than 60 years, will talk with Pellissippi State president L. Anthony Wise Jr. during February’s “Conversation with a Legend” event on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus. 

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held beginning at noon, Tuesday, Feb. 13, in the Goins Building Auditorium, 10915 Hardin Valley Road in West Knoxville.

It also will be livestreamed on Zoom.

“These conversation events utilizing guest speakers provide a platform for students to engage with various cultural traditions and promote social interaction, ultimately enriching their overall educational experience,” said Lauren Ziegler, Pellissippi State’s cultural engagement and inclusion coordinator.   

When he was a senior in high school, Robinson attempted to enroll in the all-white Knoxville East High School and became a plaintiff in a lawsuit to desegregate the city’s public school system in 1959. He also participated in lunch counter sit-in demonstrations in protest of Knoxville’s all-white eating establishments.  

Robinson later applied for admission to the University of Tennessee but was rejected due to race. Following a meeting with the university president where he threatened to sue, Robinson was admitted and began classes on Jan. 4, 1961. His actions allowed Black undergraduate students to attend. 

 Robinson went on to have a successful career, serving over the years on Knoxville City Council, as vice president of Economic Development for the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and as vice president of Equity and Diversity for the University of Tennessee System. 

For information on other Black History Month events happening at Pellissippi State, visit