At the end of every school year, when graduating seniors think about college or work, Barbara Pulliam thinks of her brother.
When May rolls around, the Richmond County Board of Education member is collecting applications for the scholarship she established in her brother’s memory after he was murdered in Savannah, Ga., in 1989, a case that caught national attention and changed her life forever.
The students chosen receive $1,500 to help in college expenses and forever become a part of a legacy Pulliam’s family will not let die.
“My brother was definitely an advocate for education and a community person,” Pulliam said. “This is a way of sort of keeping him alive.”
Robert Robinson was a prominent attorney, judge pro tem and city councilman in Savannah, often working civil rights cases, and representing the NAACP, Pulliam said.
He had just left his law office on Abercorn Street Dec. 18, 1989, when his secretary called to say he had received a package. Robinson returned to open the box to a fiery explosion.
The unassuming box turned out to be a mail bomb sent by Walter Leroy Moody, a convict with a history of experimentation with bombs and a resentment toward the court system, according to the FBI’s Web site.
Days earlier, Moody had sent a similar mail bomb to the home of federal appeals judge Robert Vance, which killed the judge when he opened it in his Alabama kitchen.
Investigators found Moody had built a hatred toward the judicial system after he lost an appeal to a conviction in the 1970s when he built a bomb that exploded and harmed his wife.
Pulliam said Moody was familiar with the court circuit where Vance worked but randomly selected Robinson because he was a black attorney. Pulliam said Moody tried to throw investigators off by making the bombings look racially motivated when really they were not.
Because of the national attention, the courts moved the case to Minnesota where the local emotions could be removed. Moody was sentenced to seven life terms and later sentenced to death, Pulliam said.
When the murder occurred, Pulliam never expected a positive result to come out of it.
It broke the hearts of her mother and father and put a burden on her everyday life. She didn’t decorate a Christmas tree for 10 years and couldn’t stand the sound of holiday music.
“It had a devastating effect on my family,” Pulliam said. “It took me a long time to be able to talk about or even deal with his death.”
The community began reacting, though. In Savannah a parking lot, a park and housing area was named after her brother. In 1990 a committee of supporters launched the Robbie Robinson Scholarship for students who planned to attend Paine College, University of Georgia or Savannah State University.
Over the years, Pulliam has put on pageants, fish fries and dances to raise money for the scholarships. She has given awards to students at schools all over Richmond County but has seen a drop in interest in recent years.
She’s unsure whether it is because of awareness or disinterest but only one Richmond County student submitted a complete application by the May 7 deadline this year.
Pulliam said she hopes her brother’s memory continues and that more students take on the responsibility to carry the name.
“We want to keep it going,” Pulliam said. “When I talk about it, as old as it is, it really kind of gets to me.”