When the doors opened at the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) on October 5, 1892, president Charles Duncan McIver had 15 well-qualified faculty members and nearly 200 young female students. While cooks, janitors, handymen, and others worked behind the scenes to keep the school running, McIver felt that he needed a single individual to manage the facilities and the support staff on the growing campus. He called upon Ezekiel “Zeke” Robinson, a young African American man who had worked for McIver during his time teaching at Peace Institute in Raleigh. Robinson arrived mere weeks after the campus’s opening, and took up the duties of “General Factotum.” In this role, Robinson managed the school’s large support staff – as many as forty-two individuals in the 1894-95 academic year.
In addition to supervision of other support staff, Robinson performed numerous tasks that were critical to the function of the school. He rang the school bell, assisted with campus landscaping, lit fires to keep offices and rooms warm, waited table at state dinners, and delivered the campus mail. He also served as a porter to the college presidents, seeing that they kept appointments and helping with their coats and umbrellas. In his role as the campus chauffeur, he drove the college presidents to meet visiting dignitaries such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, and Anna Howard Shaw.
During his time at the school, Robinson saw the transition from horses to automobiles, from oil lamps to electricity, from fireplaces to central heating, and from wells and pumps to running water. He served three college presidents (McIver, Foust, and Jackson). He saw the acreage of campus increase tenfold, and saw the student body grow from 200 to over 2,200.
Ill health forced Robinson to retire in 1944 after a 52-year career, although he noted that he planned to “come to work on his good days, and that the college will have to get along as best it can when he can’t make the grade.” He did return to campus numerous times after his official retirement, typically at the annual Founder’s Day celebration in October.
On December 1, 1960, Ezekiel Robinson died at a local nursing home at the age of 93. Robinson was the last surviving member of the faculty and staff from the first year of the State Normal.