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Historical Vignette 080 - The Corps of Engineers’ First African American General

In 1978, Hugh G. Robinson, a 1954 graduate of West Point, was promoted to brigadier general and became the Corps of Engineers’ first African American general officer. He served as deputy director of Civil Works and in 1980 assumed command of the Southwestern Division, a position he held until his retirement in 1983 as a major general.

Robinson’s career was an interesting one. After service in Korea, a master’s degree in civil engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and several Army staff positions in the United States and France, he was appointed in 1965 as military aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Robinson was the first African American to serve in that position and held the appointment throughout the remainder of Johnson’s presidency. Robinson later recalled, “I learned more in that tour than I could have ever learned in fifty years of college or university anywhere about the political process—how powerful people deal with powerful people.”

Robinson left the White House determined to “catch up” with his contemporaries, some of whom had already been to Vietnam twice. He did go to Vietnam and served as a deputy group commander and commander of the 39th Engineer Battalion. His next big assignment was as commander of the Los Angeles District.

Robinson’s distinguished career didn’t stop with the U.S. Army. He became vice president of Southland Corporation to oversee construction of the corporation’s huge new office complex in Dallas. He also served seven years as vice chairman and then chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He has served as chairman and chief executive officer of a Dallas construction management company with divisions in minority business development and affordable housing. Additionally, he has served on the board of directors of the North Texas Public Broadcasting Co., Inc., the LBJ Foundation, Inc., and the Better Business Bureau, as well as been a member of the Dallas Citizens' Council, the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Greater Dallas Chamber, and the Dallas Black Chamber.

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February 2004