Spottswood William Robinson III was born on July 26, 1916, in Richmond, Virginia, to Spottswood William Robinson Jr. and Inez Clements Robinson. He attended Armstrong High School and Virginia Union University, before following in his father's footsteps and entering the law school at Howard University in 1936. Robinson graduated first in his class in 1939 and served as a member of the Howard University School of Law faculty from his graduation until 1947. He married Marian Wilkerson, and together they raised a son and a daughter.
As a partner in the firm Hill, Martin, and Robinson with Martin A. Martin and Oliver Hill, Robinson was also one of the core attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) from 1948 to 1960. The NAACP LDF coordinated and fought court battles to end racial discrimination. In 1951 he and Oliver Hill took on the case of Prince Edward County African American schoolchildren who objected to the poor conditions at Robert R. Moton High School in Davis et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia. That case became part of the highest-profile case Robinson worked on, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), which outlawed segregation in public schools. That lawsuit was composed of five cases, including Davis, that were tried before the Supreme Court of the United States and decided as one. In 1956 he headed the legal fight against a set of Virginia laws, known as the NAACP Bills, which were designed to cripple the NAACP's work and effectiveness in the state. Robinson successfully had those laws overturned as well as a multitude of other discriminatory legislation in Virginia.
Robinson served as the Dean of the Howard University School of Law from 1960 to 1964. Concurrently, he served as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1961 to 1963. In 1964, he became the first African American to be appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Judge Robinson the first African American on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1981 Judge Robinson became the first African American to serve as the chief judge of that court. He took senior status in 1989 and retired in 1992. Spottswood W. Robinson died on October 11, 1998, in Richmond.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf, 1975.