10 Things To Know About Reparations Advocate Randall Robinson

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Written by Ann Brown
Randall Robinson
Leader of the TransAfrica delegation, activist Randall Robinson, speaks to a reporter before winding up a good will visit to Haiti in Port-au-Prince Friday, July 31, 1998. The TransAfrica delegation urged Haitian leaders to confirm a new prime minister,warning them that they ran the risk of losing U.S. support if they did not act swiftly. Actor Danny Glover, with the delegation, is seen at right. (AP Photo/ Daniel Morel)

Randall Robinson, 78, is a lawyer, author, and activist who has long fought for slavery reparations for African Americans. 

In 1977 he founded the TransAfrica Forum (now TransAfrica). He created the organization to influence U.S. policies toward Africa and the Caribbean. 

Throughout his career Robinson has called for the United States to make reparations to African Americans for the institution of slavery. 

Robinson grew up in racially segregated Richmond, Virginia, under Jim Crow. Awarded a basketball scholarship to Norfolk State College in 1959, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during his junior year. Following the military, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Virginia Union University in 1967 and later a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1970. 

Here are 10 things you should know about Randall Robinson.

Picking Up The Reparations Call

Robinson wasn’t the first person to seek financial reparations for African Americans. “In 1969 civil rights activist James Forman, in his ‘Black Manifesto,’ demanded that $500 million in reparations be paid to African Americans by white churches. Robinson, however, was perhaps the best-known advocate of the idea,” Britannica reported. 

What America Owes to Blacks

Robinson laid out his case for reparations in his book “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks,” which he wrote in 2000. In it he demanded compensation, not only financially but with social programs and other restitutive solutions. The reparations is to atone for the years of slavery and for the imbalances, injustices, and discrimination that have kept Blacks at a disadvantage to whites.

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Africa Focus

Robinson lived in Tanzania for some time as a Ford Foundation fellow. When he returned to the United States he worked as a legal-aid lawyer in Boston and he also did community organizing. Two years after moving to Washington, DC,  Robinson founded TransAfrica there in 1977. “Among the organization’s initiatives were those urging the U.S. government to stand against apartheid in South Africa and to stop supporting African and Caribbean dictatorships,” Britannica reported.  In 2001 Robinson resigned his leadership position with TransAfrica to focus on other endeavors.

Political Ties

Robinson worked for U.S. Congressman Bill Clay in 1975 and as administrative assistant to Congressman Charles Diggs in 1976. 

In Exile

When Robinson left TransAfrica he decided to emigrate to St. Kitts. It was the country of his wife, who is a member of a prominent Kittitian family.

“Robinson’s self-imposed exile was caused by what he describes as his antipathy towards America’s domestic policies and foreign policy, both of which he believes exploit minorities and the poor,” Wikipedia reported.

Post exile, Robinson is currently serving as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law.

Robinson’s Writings

He wrote his memoir, “Defending the Spirit,” in 1998, in which he vividly discusses racism in America. He next published “The Debt,” which he uses to detail his belief that reparations should be made to African Americans. In 2002 he penned “The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other,” in which he brings to task wealthy African Americans for not working together to end poverty and crime in Black communities. 

His book “Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land,” published in 2004, talks about his decision to leave the United States permanently. It is about his new life on Saint Kitts. He later wrote a historical study of modern Haiti called “An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President,” in 2007. Other works included his novel “Makeda” (2011).

The Robinsons

Randall is the younger brother of the late ABC News anchorman Max Robinson. He also has an older sister, actress Jewel Robinson, and a younger sister, Pastor Jean Robinson. 

Global Activist

He organized sit-ins at the South African embassy in order to protest the Afrikaner government’s racial policy of discrimination against Black South Africans. He also went on a hunger strike as a way to pressure the United States government into restoring Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after the short-lived coup by General Raoul Cédras. In another act, he dumped crates filled with bananas onto the steps of the United States Trade Representative in order to protest what he views as discriminatory trade policies aimed at Caribbean nations, such as protective tariffs and import quotas.

No, Thank You

In 2003 Robinson turned down an honorary degree from Georgetown University Law Center.

What America Owes to Blacks and What Blacks Owe to Each Other

In this work, Robinson wrote: “When I talk about reparations, I am not merely talking about restitution to the contemporary victims of American slavery for slavery and the century of the de jure discrimination that followed it. I am talking about the repair of our general society. I am talking about the resuscitation of compassion. I am talking about the essential notions of decency in a viable democratic society.”

The Debt

In “The Debt” he wrote: “Although the practice of slavery lay heavily athwart the new country for most of the depicted age, the frieze presents nothing at all from this long, scarring period. No Douglass. No Tubman. No slavery. No Blacks, period.”