African-American writer Donald Bogle called him “the quintessential Tom” because of his cheerful and shameless subservience to whites in film. But in real life Robinson was the sort of man who, when refused service at an all-white luncheonette, would lay his pearl-handled revolver on the counter and demand to be served.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was the most famous of all African American tap dancers in the twentieth century. Born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia, his parents, Maria and Maxwell Robinson, died in 1885. Young Bill was reared by his grandmother, Bedilia Robinson, who had been a slave. In Richmond, he got the nickname “Bojangles” from “jangler,” meaning contentious, and he invented the phrase “Everything’s Copasetic,” meaning tip-top.