Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949), believed by many to be the best tap dancer of all time, hailed from Richmond’s Jackson Ward. Also known as Shirley Temple’s dancing partner in such movies as The Little Colonel (1935) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Mr. Robinson left a legacy that extends beyond the cameras of Hollywood. In his hometown, his memory is fondly revered; a statue now stands in his honor at the intersection of Adams Street and Leigh Street in Jackson Ward. Made of aluminum donated by the Richmond-based Reynolds Metals Company in 1973, it celebrated his love for children by marking the spot where he paid for a traffic light to be installed, during the 1930s, to protect those who walked to and from Armstrong High School, located across from the busy area.
The “Bojangles” Memorial Fund Committee of the local Astoria Beneficial Club commissioned John Temple Witt to create the statue. Witt was a local sculptor and art professor at Randolph-Macon College in nearby Ashland. The sculpture captures the engaging image of a smiling Mr. Robinson dancing down a flight of stairs. On the plaque of the sculpture’s front base, Mr. Robinson’s humanitarian efforts are honored with the words: Dancer, Actor, Humanitarian, Native Son of Richmond; Internationally Famous Actor and Dancer Rendered Many Kindnesses to the Citizens of Richmond.
The iconic “Bojangles” statue of a shiny, silver hue is situated on a parcel of land of the intersection designated by the city to accommodate the monument, aptly called “Robinson Square”. In spite of its location in the middle of a constantly active intersection, it’s a welcoming environment featuring brick walking areas,
floral landscaping, and park benches. A water fountain for horses and smaller domestic animals donated to the city by the National Humane Alliance in 1938 was relocated to the area. The committee members who shaped this tribute are also noted on a plaque on the rear base. They are Carroll W. Anderson, (Chairman), Marion Robertson (Vice-Chairman), George Taylor (Recording Secretary), Herbert H. Johnson, (Financial Secretary), J. Carroll Beard (Treasurer), Wesley T. Carter, Richard W. Foster, Willie L. Loving, Reginald M. Dyson, Bernard L. Jones, and Powell B. Williams. Each year, a festival takes place on the fourth Saturday in June to commemorate the unveiling of the statue dedicated to one of Richmond’s favorite sons.