Theotis Robinson Jr. first gained statewide attention in 1960 when the University of Tennessee refused to admit him due to his race. The previous spring Robinson, who graduated in June from Austin High School, had participated in sit-in demonstrations to desegregate Knoxville's downtown eating establishments. Those sit-ins proved successful: well before the end of the summer desegregation became a fact of life in downtown Knoxville. While Robinson and his fellow activists were thrilled at their success, they still realized that much remained to be done.
That realization prompted Robinson to apply to the University of Tennessee that fall. Initially the school refused to admit him, but after a series of meetings with various school officials, the Board of Trustees allowed him to register. Thus, in January 1961 Theotis Robinson Jr. became the first black undergraduate to attend the University of Tennessee. From this “first” Robinson went on to become the first African American to serve on the Knoxville City Council in over fifty years. He was elected to that post in 1969 and he served through the end of 1977. Since that time Robinson has continued to serve the Knoxville community in various capacities including a post as vice-president for Economic Development for the 1982 World's Fair. He later accepted the position of special projects coordinator at the University of Tennessee. In August 2000 the university promoted Robinson to the new position of vice-president for Diversity and Equity. Robinson is also a regular contributor to the editorial pages of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.