Founder of Operation Crossroads Africa

Dr. James Herman Robinson

1907 - 1972

Dr. James H. Robinson was a noted African American clergyman and humanitarian.  He founded Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA) and it became operational under his leadership in 1958.

For many years prior to his work with Operation Crossroads Africa, he served as the pastor of the Church of the Master in New York City where he created a number of innovative youth and community programs.

Despite having been born in very humble circumstances in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1907, he completed high school in Cleveland, Ohio and went on to graduate from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1935 and Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1938.  During his time at Lincoln University, he met several people from Africa who were to become leading figures in liberation struggles in Africa. One person was Kwame Nkrumah, who became the first president of Ghana; and, another person was Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became the first president of Nigeria.  While at Union Seminary, Dr. Robinson developed a strong commitment to social justice.

In 1954, Dr. Robinson undertook a tour of Africa on behalf of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.  He returned from that tour convinced that the best way to help the people of Africa was to provide practical aid to the continent.  His reflections on his Africa tour were formalized in the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University in 1955.  The ideas he set forth in his lecture led to the basic constructs of Operation Crossroads Africa:

  1. Practical aid
  2. Engagement of young people
  3. Inclusiveness of participation

Dr. Robinson's ideas about providing aid to Africa gained support of noted individuals in the United States and Africa.  His organizing efforts came to fruition in 1958 with the deployment of the first contingent of Operation Crossroads Africa volunteers.

Because of the success and public acclaim of Operation Crossroads Africa, the Kennedy Administration sought advice from Dr. Robinson in organizing the Peace Corps in 1961.  Dr. Robinson served as vice chairman of the Peace Corps National Advisory Council.  In welcoming the 1962 OCA volunteers to the White House, President John F. Kennedy stated that Operation Crossroads Africa was the "progenitor" of the Peace Corps.

Dr. Robinson was an inspirational speaker who preached at churches and lectured at colleges and universities all over North America. As a speaker he was an effective recruiter for Operation Crossroads Africa.  Throughout the years of his involvement, many students cited having heard him speak as the reason they volunteered for the program.  He was the recipient of many awards and honors.  In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed his as a special representative to Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Basutoland (Lesotho).

Dr. Robinson died in New York City on November 6, 1972.

Books by James H. Robinson

Road Without Turning(1950)
Tomorrow is Today(1954)
Adventures in Preaching(1955)
Africa at the Crossroads(1962)