September 24, 2023

HMAAC Dedicates the Stairwell of Memory and Inaugural Tolan/Bland/Floyd Lecture


The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) is pleased to announce the February 19 dedication of its Stairwell of Memory and Inaugural Bland/Floyd/Tolan Lecture at 2:00 pm in the museum. The dedication will feature comments from Robbie Tolan and a book signing of No Justice: One White Police Officer, One Black Family. Special guest Lezley McSpadden-Head, Michael Brown’s mother, will be present in support of the Tolan family.

It has been clear to the museum that we needed to lift up Robbie Tolan, “The Survivor,” and have him join Sandra Bland and George Floyd in its Stairwell of Memory.. On December 11, 2021, HMAAC dedicated a portrait of Tolan by artist Cedric Ingram that was added to the ones of Bland and Floyd. The three of them represent our area’s most prominent symbols of police brutality.  America is indeed lucky and blessed that one of them survived; a living reminder that justice for black victims of police brutality is so rare as to essentially be non-existent, and that good citizens of all races must be diligent to change our current culture to one of fairness and equity.

According to HMAAC CEO John Guess, Jr., “We are all blessed to celebrate Robbie Tolan, ‘The Survivor,’ as the last portrait for HMAAC’s Stairwell of Memory. Robbie joins Sandy and Big Floyd, all subjected to police brutality that we must never forget. The Bland/Floyd/Tolan Lectures will help us learn from what happened to them as we improve the criminal justice system.”

On December 31, 2008, Bellaire Texas Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, who is white, shot Tolan, an unarmed 23 year old black man beginning his professional baseball career, in the driveway of the home where he lived with his parents, Marian and Bobby Tolan, who came outside in their pajamas and tried to explain that the car was theirs and that they lived in the house. Robbie had been ordered to the ground at gunpoint, and was shot as he started to get up protesting the treatment of his mother who was being pushed toward a garage door by one of the officers on the scene.  Cotton said he thought Robbie was reaching for a gun in his waistband. Cotton was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault by a public servant but was found not guilty and continued to work.

“Because of the Tolans this case found its way all the way to the Supreme Court, and began the legal examination of qualified immunity for police officers involved in deadly use of force,’ HMAAC Board Chair Cindy Miles said.




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