Skip to main content

Robinson, Randall 1941–

Randall Robinson 1941

Lobbyist, foreign policy strategist, human rights activist, author

At a Glance

Founded TransAfrica

Focused on South Africa

Broadened Scope of Advocacy

Argued for Slavery Reparations

Selected writings

Sources

Randall Robinson is the executive director of TransAfrica, Inc., a Washington-based lobbying organization devoted to the fight for human rights for people of color throughout the world. Since its inception in 1977, TransAfrica has been at the forefront of the crusade to shape U.S. foreign policy in Africa and the Caribbean Basin. Robinsons passion, commitment, and political savvycombined with financial support from corporate giants like Coca-Cola, Nike, Reebok, and Anheuser-Buschhave made him and TransAfrica indisputable forces in the continued fight for racial justice worldwide.

According to Robinson, it is ignorance of geopolitics that so often explains Americas regrettable silence on the human rights violations of tyrannical regimes that operate all over the globe-and, in some cases, only hundreds of miles beyond U.S. borders. In addition, he charges that racism is at the root of an American immigration policy that has rejected the political asylum claims of Haitian refugees while welcoming non-blacks from other corners of the world. In order to fight these twin foes of ignorance and racism, Robinsons TransAfrica has relied on both backroom political pressure and high-profile public education campaigns.

Robinsons participation in a quiet act of civil disobedience in 1984 set in motion a radical change in American policy toward South Africas discriminatory apartheid regime. Along with black political activists Mary Frances Berry and Walter Fauntroy, he masterminded a year-long protest of the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. So successful was he in creating the atmosphere for political change in South Africa, so influential was his voice in the chorus to end that countrys institutionalized racism, that U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, as quoted in the New York Times, described the lobbyist as the 101st senator in all our debates on apartheid.

The man who turned a two-person organization in a basement office into a 15,000-member national lobby that ignited the Free South Africa Movement was exposed to racism in his own country long before he cast his eyes on injustices around the world. Born on June 6, 1941, in Richmond, Virginia, Robinsonthe younger brother of the late Max Robinson, the nations first African American network news anchorwas educated in segregated public schools and graduated from Richmonds formerly all-black Virginia Union University in 1967. Early on in life, he told People magazine, I was taught that an unprincipled life is not worth living.

Robinson first sat next to white students at Harvard University Law School, where he earned his degree in 1970. While many of his classmates chose to follow the lucrative path of corporate law, Robinson traveled to Tanzania on a Ford fellowship and then returned to Boston to work as a civil rights attorney for a legal aid project. He went to Washington in 1975 as an aide to Missouri congressman William Clay. A year later, while an administrative assistant to Michigan Democratic representative Charles C. Diggs, Jr., took part in a congressional delegations trip to South Africa.

At a Glance

Born on July 6, 1941, in Richmond, VA; son of Maxie Cleveland (a high school history teacher) and Doris (a teacher and homemaker) Robinson; married Brend Randolph (a librarian; divorced); married second wife, Hazel (a foreign policy adviser), c. 1987; children: (first marriage) Anikie, labari; (second marriage) Khalea. Education: Virginia Union University, Richmond, BA, 1967; Harvard University Law School, Cambridge, MA, JD, 1970. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Army, mid-1960s.

Career: Civil rights attorney, Boston, 1971-75; aide to U.S. representative William Clay, 1975, and to U.S. representative Charles C. Diggs, Jr., 1976; TransAfrica, Inc., executive director, 1977-95, president, 1995-2001; TransAfrica Forum, executive director, 1981-95, president, 1995-2001; writer, 2001.

Selected awards: Ford fellowship; National Association of Black Journalists Community Services Award; Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change, Humanitarian Award; National Rainbow Coalition, Hope Award; Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Drum Major for Justice Award.

Addresses: Office c/o TransAfrica Forum, 1426 21st Street, NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20036, Home St Kitts.

Founded TransAfrica

The dehumanizing consequences of South African apartheida political system that denied the countrys black majority its most basic civil rightsbecame frighteningly clear to Robinson. In one case, a liberal South African businessman told Diggs that granting voting power to blacks would be akin to giving a gun to a five-year-old. In an interview with Ebony, Robinson stated that South African blacks were obliged to endure a hate-inducing system that forces one to choose between an expression of self-dignity that puts your life at risk or a turning of that emotion inside that makes you a stooped human being. The idea for TransAfrica was born in 1976 during the annual session of the Congressional Black Caucus. Representative Diggs and former congressman and civil rights crusader Andrew Young convened a special meeting to discuss the policy of then-President Gerald Fords administration in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Calling for an end to white rule of the 98-percent-black populace, guerrilla fighters in that African country were engaged in deadly fighting with government troops.

In articulating their opposition to Fords policy of tolerance toward the white rulers, the meeting attendees broached an issue of much larger scope. They concluded that there was a deplorable scarcity of people of color in high-level international affairs positions and that a private advocacy organization was needed to counter the neglect of African and Caribbean needs in U.S. foreign policy-making circles. TransAfrica, the first organization of its kind, was incorporated in 1977; Robinsonwith his educational and work background and his political savvywas chosen as its executive director.

In order for the lobbying group to enjoy influence with Washington politicians, Robinson knew he needed to assemble a constituency of Americans who had overcome their ignorance of African and Caribbean issues and would provide support, in money and in their own activism, for the causes that TransAfrica would champion. In 1981 TransAfrica Forum, the research and educational affiliate of TransAfrica, was established to collect and disseminate information to help plan U.S. foreign policy in black areas of the world.

With educational programs for minorities, foreign policy conferences, and numerous publications, TransAfrica Forum undertakes the frequently challenging role of shedding light on political injustices that have not attracted sustained television news coverage. This task, Robinson has said, is complicated by the fact that most Americans of all colors care less about foreign than domestic policy, less about the cruel and barbarous conditions in which millions of non-American blacks are forced to live than about the standards of living for people within the United States.

Focused on South Africa

But as Robinson told Black Enterprise, You dont change policy under the presumption that you must have a majority opinion on your side. In the final analysis, you need to organize a critical mass of people, which is not necessarily the majority of the black community. The issue is how well organized we are at a certain level and how vigorously we can apply pressure on the administration and the Congress to create the foreign policy we want. TransAfrica emerged as a potent national force in 1984, when apartheid, the official, segregationist policy of South Africa that was instituted in 1948, first began to generate heated public debate and outrage on the worldwide political scene. After a meeting with South Africas ambassador to the United States, Robinson, former U.S. civil rights commissioner Mary Frances Berry, and former Washington, D.C., delegate Walter Fauntroy refused to leave the South African embassy in Washington until the process to dismantle apartheid had begun and Nelson Mandela, the long-jailed president of the African National Congress (ANC), was released.

This 1960s-style sit-in and the subsequent arrest of Robinson and the others prompted 53 consecutive weeks of daily protests in Washington and at South African consulates in 23 cities across the United States, as well as symbolic vigils at embassies around the world. At the American protests, more than 4,000 people were arrested, including 23 members of Congress, mayors, civil rights activists, and celebrities. Because of these demonstrations and the famous names associated with them, American scrutiny of South African political injustice reached an all-time high, and, consequently, TransAfricas fight for political action enjoyed the fuel of public support.

Robinson and others called on Congress to enact strict economic sanctions against South Africa, claiming the suspension of U.S. trade and loans to that country would expedite the fracturing of apartheid. However, then-President Ronald Reagan continued to embrace his constructive engagement policy, which argued that sanctions would hurt black South African workers more than their white employers and that political reform in South Africa would more likely result from a conciliatory rather than antagonistic approach. But TransAfrica and other groups had momentum on their side. In 1986 the U.S. Senate overrode a Reagan veto to pass a series of sweeping sanctions against South Africa.

This legislation, known as the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, resulted in a ban on the importation of the gold Krugerrand coin (a South African currency) into the United States; a ban on the transfer of nuclear materials and technology to South Africa; a ban on the sale of computers and computer technology to South African military, police, and other agencies enforcing apartheid; and a cut-off in U.S. loans, except those providing education, housing, or health facilities on a nondiscriminatory basis. John S. DeMott wrote in Time, U.S. Senators and Representatives who voted for sanctions against apartheid enthusiastically acknowledge that Robinsons cool, calm competence helped rally black and white Americans against apartheid.

Though academics and policy analysts debated the effectiveness of the sanctions, subsequent events in South Africa indicated that financial leverage, in combination with continued public pressure, contributed to the reversal of apartheid. After the release of Mandela in 1990 and his triumphant world tour, Robinson urged anti-apartheid activists not to allow the euphoria to quiet their calls for the structural dismantling of the regime. When U.S. president George Bushs administration relaxed the sanctions in 1991, responding to reform measures implemented by South African president F. W. de Klerk, Robinson argued that blacks still had no real economic or political power in that country, and that the incentive for de Klerk to continue toward a democratic government had been unwisely lifted.

Robinson maintained his belief that the main pillars of apartheid were likely to remain in place. Responding to a 1992 referendumin which white South Africans overwhelmingly endorsed de Klerks increasingly dramatic reformsRobinson was quoted as saying in the Washington Post: Its important not to celebrate prematurely, but having said that, this is a watershed event in South African history. The citizens of that country were faced with a clear choice: reform that will hopefully lead to a democratic South Africa, or chaos which would likely lead to a civil war. But no one is at the finish line yet.

South Africa held its first free and fair multiracial elections in the spring of 1994. During this historic event, South African people of color finally savored the taste of freedom. Voters waited in snakelike lines for hourssome elderly black citizens actually had to be carried to the pollsto cast their ballots for the very first time in a presidential election. ANC leader Nelson Mandela emerged as the countrys clear choice for president, garnering 62.65 percent of the votes; his party gained 252 of the National Parliaments 400 seats. Still, during the transition from apartheid to democratic rule in South Africa, Robinson urged the United States to assist with peacekeeping measures.

Broadened Scope of Advocacy

According to Emerge, TransAfrica lost its villain with the death of apartheid in South Africa. Today, the nation is headed down the rocky road toward a multiracial democracy, and apartheid, at least the legal version, has exited. That exit has left TransAfrica without a focal point. Now, TransAfrica is at the starting gate again, faced with [the challenge of building] a constituency for a progressive policy toward Africa and the Caribbean.

The early 1990s saw Robinson lobbying for U.S. aid to war-torn Somalia and for the establishment of a humane and just policy toward Haitian refugees. Robinson continues to speak out on global issues affecting people of color, educating Americans on the economic ills of many African countries, and urging Congress to be as generous with aid to emerging African democracies as it is to former Communist nations in Europe. Asked about the future lobbying direction of TransAfrica, Robinson told Black Enterprise: We have to acquire all the muscle we need from the horn of Africa to West Africa to the smaller nations of the Eastern Caribbean to blacks in Brazil. We have to make sure that no policy is made that affects our people that we have not effectively weighed.

In April of 1994, Robinson planned a hunger strike and a demonstration on the White House grounds to protest U.S. president Bill Clintons policy on Haiti. Newsweek quoted Robinson as saying that he was prepared to die in the fight for the Haitian boat people seeking political asylum in the United States. Beginning April 12, he refused all nourishment except for juice and water and remained in the basement of TransAfricas Washington headquarters waiting for some action from the U.S. government.

Although an embargo on fuel and arms had been initiated against Haiti in October of 1993, it wasnt until seven months later that a near-total trade embargo was instituted by the United Nations, effectively banning all international trade except for food and medicine. Such sanctions were established in the face of increased political violence in Haitiviolence that stemmed directly from the 1991 ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the vehement antidemocracy tactics of the nations subsequent military regime.

Wracked by poverty and fearing for their lives under Haitis oppressive military rule, many Haitians risked almost certain death in their attempts to escape their homeland. Boatloads of Haitian people seeking refuge on U.S. shores were returned to Haiti by the Coast Guard; passengers were then placed in police custody. As reported in Jet magazine, Robinson deemed this a profoundly racist policy that made President Clinton complicitous in the behavior of Haitian military leaders as they murder anyone who favors democracy in that country.

But on May 8, 1994, Clinton agreed to allow asylum hearings at sea to Haitian refugees, deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to grant each one entry into the United States. According to the New York Times, escalating violence in Haiti throughout the spring of 1994 made the new asylum policy necessary. The Times also noted that administration officials were considering the use of American military force in Haiti to restore democracy, quoting President Clinton as saying, The United States has clear interests at stake in ending this crisis.

Although Clinton claimed that he would not allow Robinsons actions to influence the administrations decisions on Haitian immigration, many political observers felt that the 27-day-long fast, which landed Robinson in the hospital briefly for dehydration by the third week, played a key role in the policy change. Still, when all was said and done, Robinson felt that Clinton did discernibly little for blacks while winning their support with minor gestures (and) no quid pro quo.

Argued for Slavery Reparations

Toward the end of the twentieth century, Robinson continued to work on human rights issues in African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Zaire, Liberia, and Malawi. In 1999, he met with Pope John Paul II to discuss relieving the debt of Third World countries. In 2000, Robinson published The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and the brought the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of black slaves to public attention. (This was followed in 2002 by Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other.) In the introduction to The Debt, Robinson wrote, No race, no ethnic or religious group, has suffered so much over so long a span as blacks have. He added: It is a miracle that the victimsweary dark souls shorn of a venerable and ancient identityhave survived at all, stymied as they are by the blocked roads to economic equality.

A key argument advanced by Robinson was that slaveryby making the retention or passing along of African language, religion, and history illegalresulted in psychological damage that created an impediment to black social and economic progress. Robinson went on to argue that slavery established patterns of self-hatred, class conflict, and internal dissension that undercut collective efforts to build wealth. Though he recognized that the movement to gain reparations for the descendants of slaves would not succeed overnight, Robinson told Black Issues in Higher Education: Im very optimistic. I put no clock on these things, you see. I dont know flit will happen in my lifetime in the same way I didnt know if apartheid would end in my lifetime. But you fight prepared to go the long term, and if your life wont cover the term of the struggle, then you hand off your progress to the next generation.

In 2001, Robinson handed part of his struggle on to the next generation when he stepped down as head of TransAfrica and TransAfrica Forum. That year, citing his persistent disgust with the enduring racism and discrimination that existed in American culture, moved his family to St. Kitts, the Caribbean island home of his second wife, Hazel. In an Essence interview, Ellis Cose asked Robinson why he left his native land. Answered Robinson: America is a huge fraud, clad in a narcissistic conceit and satisfied with itself, feeling unneedful of any self-examination nor responsibility to right past wrongs, of which it notices none. Its the kind of fraud that simply wears you out. Robinson wrote of the painful decision to leave the United States in his 2004 book Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land, which also laid out his ongoing objections to American policy in Iraq and to European exploitation of Caribbean economies. The book was a clear signal that while Robinson may no longer be knocking on the doors of Congressmen to lobby for change, he will remain a voice for progress and humanity in dealing with black nations around the world.

Selected writings

The Emancipation of Wakefield Clay: A Novel, Bogle-LOuverture Publications, 1978.

Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America (biography), Dutton, 1998.

The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, Dutton, 2000.

Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other, Dutton, 2002.

Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land, Dutton, 2004.

Sources

Books

The African Americans, edited by David Cohen and Charles M. Collins, Viking Studio Books, 1993.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, October 1985, p. 29; August 1992, p. 53.

Black Issues in Higher Education, November 8, 2001, pp. 20-32.

Boston Globe, February 21, 1990, p. 3.

Chicago Sun-Times, April 24, 1994.

Dollars & Sense, May 1994, pp. 8-15.

Ebony, July 1987, p. 108; May 1993, p. 48.

Emerge, October 1993, p. 33.

Essence, March 1993, p. 170; February 2004, p. 114.

Jet, May 2, 1994, pp. 5-6.

Library Journal, February 1, 2004, p. 113.

New Republic, July 9-16, 1990, p. 14.

Newsweek, July 29, 1991, p. 8; April 18, 1994, p. 4.

New York Times, October 5, 1989, p. A31; September 25, 1990, p. A27; August 22, 1991, p. C12; May 9, 1994; May 23, 1994.

People, May 23, 1994.

Publishers Weekly, January 12, 2004, p. 51.

Time, November 25, 1985, p. 41.

Washington Post, March 19, 1992, p. A19; August 24, 1992, p. A17.

Isaac Rosen, Barbara Carlisle Bigelow, and Tom Pendergast

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Robinson, Randall 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Robinson, Randall 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-randall-1941

"Robinson, Randall 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-randall-1941

Robinson, Randall 1942(?)–

Randall Robinson 1942(?)

Lobbyist, foreign policy strategist, human rights activist

At a Glance

Worked to Educate Public on Global Injustice

Lobbied for Sanctions Against Apartheid

Cast Spotlight on Haiti

Sources

Randall Robinson is the executive director of TransAfrica, Inc., a Washington-based lobbying organization devoted to the fight for human rights for people of color throughout the world. Since its inception in 1977, TransAfrica has been at the forefront of the crusade to shape U.S. foreign policy in Africa and the Caribbean Basin.

According to Robinson, it is ignorance of geopolitics that so often explains Americas regrettable silence on the human rights violations of tyrannical regimes that operate all over the globeand, in some cases, only hundreds of miles beyond the U.S. border. In addition, he charges that racism is at the root of an American immigration policy that rejected the political asylum claims of Haitian refugees while welcoming non-blacks from other comers of the world onto American shores. In order to fight these twin foes of ignorance and racism, Robinsons TransAfrica has relied on both backroom political pressure and high-profile public education campaigns.

Robinsons participation in a quiet act of civil disobedience in 1984 set in motion a radical change in American policy toward South Africas discriminatory apartheid regime. Along with black political activists Mary Frances Berry and Walter Fauntroy, he fueled a yearlong protest of the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. So successful was he in creating the atmosphere for political change in South Africa, so influential was his voice in the chorus to end that countrys institutionalized racism, that U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, as quoted in the New York Times, described the lobbyist as the 101st senator in all our debates on apartheid.

The man who turned a two-person organization in a basement office into a 15,000-member national lobby that ignited the Free South Africa Movement was exposed to racism in his own country long before he cast his eyes on injustices around the world. Born in Richmond, Virginia, Robinsonthe younger brother of the late Max Robinson, the nations first African American network news anchorwas educated in segregated public schools and graduated from the formerly all-black Virginia Union University in 1967. Early on in life, he told People magazine, I was taught that an unprincipled life is not worth living.

Robinson first sat next to white students at Harvard University Law School, where he earned his degree in 1970. While many of his classmates chose to follow the

At a Glance

Born c. 1942 in Richmond, VA; son of Maxie Cleveland (a high school history teacher) and Doris (a teacher and homemaker) Robinson; married Brenda Randolph (a librarian; divorced); married second wife, Hazel (a foreign policy adviser), c. 1987; children: (first marriage) Anikie, Jabari; (second marriage) Khalea. Education: Virginia Union University, B.A., 1967; law degree from Harvard University Law School, 1970.

Civil rights attorney, Boston, 1971-75; aide to U.S. representative William Clay, 1975, and to U.S. representative Charles C. Diggs, Jr., 1976; executive director, TransAfrica, Inc., 1977; established TransAfrica Forum, 1981. Military service: Served in the U.S. Army, mid-1960s.

Selected awards: Ford fellowship; Martin Luther King, Jr., Public Service Award from Ebony magazine.

Addresses: Office TransAfrica, Inc., 545 Eighth St. SE, Washington, DC 20003.

lucrative path of corporate law, Robinson traveled to Tanzania on a Ford fellowship and then returned to Boston to work as a civil rights attorney for a legal aid project. He went to Washington in 1975 as an aide to Missouri congressman William Clay, and a year later, while an administrative assistant to Michigan democratic representative Charles C. Diggs, Jr., took part in a congressional delegations trip to South Africa.

The dehumanizing consequences of South African apartheida political system that denied the countrys black majority its most basic civil rightsbecame frighteningly clear to Robinson. In one case, a liberal South African businessman told Diggs that granting voting power to blacks would be akin to giving a gun to a five-year-old. In an interview with Ebony, Robinson stated that South African blacks were obliged to endure a hate-inducing system that forces one to choose between an expression of self-dignity that puts your life at risk or a turning of that emotion inside that makes you a stooped human being. The idea for TransAfrica was born in 1976 during the annual session of the Congressional Black Caucus. Representative Diggs and former congressman and civil rights crusader Andrew Young convened a special meeting to discuss the policy of then-President Gerald Fords administration in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Guerrillas in the south-central African country, calling for an end to white rule of the 98 percent black populace, were engaged in deadly fighting with government troops.

In articulating their opposition to Fords policy of tolerance toward the white rulers, the meeting attendees broached an issue of much larger scope. They concluded that there was a deplorable scarcity of people of color in high-level international affairs positions and that a private advocacy organization was needed to counter the neglect of African and Caribbean needs in U.S. foreign-policy-making circles. TransAfrica, the first organization of its kind, was incorporated in 1977; Robinsonwith his educational and work background and his political astutenesswas chosen as its executive director.

Worked to Educate Public on Global Injustice

In order for the lobbying group to enjoy influence with Washington politicians, Robinson knew he needed to assemble a constituency of Americans who had overcome their ignorance of African and Caribbean issues and would provide support, in money and in their own activism, for the causes that TransAfrica would champion. In 1981 TransAfrica Forum, the research and educational affiliate of TransAfrica, was established to collect and disseminate information to help plan U.S. foreign policy in black areas of the world.

With educational programs for minorities, foreign policy conferences, and numerous publications, TransAfrica Forum undertakes the frequently challenging role of shedding light on political injustices that have not attracted sustained television news coverage. This task, Robinson has said, is complicated by the fact that most Americans of all colors care less about foreign than domestic policy, less about the cruel and barbarous conditions in which millions of non-American blacks are forced to live than about the standards of living for people within the United States.

But as Robinson told Black Enterprise, You dont change policy under the presumption that you must have a majority opinion on your side. In the final analysis, you need to organize a critical mass of people, which is not necessarily the majority of the black community. The issue is how well organized we are at a certain level and how vigorously we can apply pressure on the administration and the Congress to create the foreign policy we want.

TransAfrica emerged as a potent national force in 1984, when apartheid, the official, segregationist policy of South Africa that was instituted in 1948, first began to generate heated public debate and outrage on the worldwide political scene. After a meeting with South Africas ambassador to the United States, Robinson, former U.S. civil rights commissioner Mary Frances Berry, and former Washington, D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy refused to leave the South African embassy in Washington until the process to dismantle apartheid had begun and Nelson Mandela, the long-jailed president of the African National Congress (ANC), was released.

This 1960s-style sit-in and the subsequent arrest of Robinson and the others prompted 53 consecutive weeks of daily protests in Washington and at South African consulates in 23 cities across the United States, as well as symbolic vigils at embassies around the world. At the American protests, more than 4,000 people were arrested, including 23 members of Congress, mayors, civil rights activists, and celebrities. Because of these demonstrations and the famous names associated with them, American scrutiny of South African political injustice reached an all-time high, and, consequently, TransAfricas fight for political action enjoyed the fuel of public support.

Lobbied for Sanctions Against Apartheid

Robinson and others called on Congress to enact strict economic sanctions against South Africa, claiming the suspension of U.S. trade and loans to that country would expedite the fracturing of apartheid. However, then-President Ronald Reagan continued to embrace his constructive engagement policy, which argued that sanctions would hurt black South African workers more than their white employers and that political reform in South Africa would more likely result from a conciliatory rather than antagonistic approach. But TransAfrica and other groups had momentum on their side. In 1986 the U.S. Senate overrode a Reagan veto to pass a series of sweeping sanctions against South Africa.

This legislation, known as the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, resulted in a ban on the importation of the gold Krugerrand into the United States; a ban on the transfer of nuclear materials and technology to South Africa; a ban on the sale of computers and computer technology to South African military, police, and other agencies enforcing apartheid; and a cut-off in U.S. loans, except those providing education, housing, or health facilities on a nondiscriminatory basis. John S. DeMott wrote in Time, U.S. Senators and Representatives who voted for sanctions against apartheid enthusiastically acknowledge that Robinsons cool, calm competence helped rally black and white Americans against apartheid.

Though academics and policy analysts debated the effectiveness of the sanctions, subsequent events in South Africa indicated that financial leverage, in combination with continued public pressure, contributed to the reversal of apartheid. After the release of Mandela in 1990 and his triumphant world tour, Robinson urged anti-apartheid activists not to allow the euphoria to quiet their calls for the structural dismantling of the regime. When U.S. president George Bushs administration relaxed the sanctions in 1991, responding to reform measures implemented by South African president F. W. de Klerk, Robinson argued that blacks still had no real economic or political power in that country, and that the incentive for de Klerk to continue toward a democratic government had been unwisely lifted.

Robinson maintained his belief that the main pillars of apartheid were likely to remain in place. Responding to a 1992 referendumin which white South Africans overwhelmingly endorsed de Klerks increasingly dramatic reformsRobinson was quoted as saying in the Washington Post: Its important not to celebrate prematurely, but having said that, this is a watershed event in South African history. The citizens of that country were faced with a clear choice: reform that will hopefully lead to a democratic South Africa, or chaos which would likely lead to a civil war. But no one is at the finish line yet.

South Africa held its first free and fair multiracial elections in the spring of 1994. During this historic event, South African people of color finally savored the taste of freedom. Voters waited in snakelike lines for hours some elderly black citizens actually had to be carried to the pollsto cast their ballots for the very first time in a presidential election. ANC leader Nelson Mandela emerged as the countrys clear choice for president, garnering 62.65 percent of the votes and 252 of the National Parliaments 400 seats. Still, during the transition from apartheid to democratic rule in South Africa, Robinson urged the United States to assist with peacekeeping measures.

According to Emerge, TransAfrica lost its villain with the death of apartheid in South Africa. Today, the nation is headed down the rocky road toward a multiracial democracy, and apartheid, at least the legal version, has exited. That exit has left TransAfrica without a focal point. Now, TransAfrica is at the starting gate again, faced with [the challenge of building] a constituency for a progressive policy toward Africa and the Caribbean.

Cast Spotlight on Haiti

The early 1990s saw Robinson lobbying for U.S. aid to wartorn Somalia and for the establishment of a humane and just policy toward Haitian refugees. Robinson continues to speak out on global issues affecting people of color, educating Americans on the economic ills of many African countries and urging Congress to be as generous with aid to emerging African democracies as it is to former Communist nations in Europe. Asked about the future lobbying direction of TransAfrica, Robinson told Black Enterprise: We have to acquire all the muscle we need from the horn of Africa to West Africa to the smaller nations of the Eastern Caribbean to blacks in Brazil. We have to make sure that no policy is made that affects our people that we have not effectively weighed.

In April of 1994, Robinson planned a hunger strike and a demonstration on the White House grounds to protest U.S. president Bill Clintons policy on Haiti. Newsweek quoted Robinson as saying that he was prepared to die in the fight for the Haitian boat people seeking political asylum in the United States. Beginning April 12, he refused all nourishment except for juice and water and remained in the basement of TransAfricas Washington headquarters waiting for some action from the U.S. government.

Although an embargo on fuel and arms had been initiated against Haiti in October of 1993, it wasnt until seven months later that a near-total trade embargo was instituted by the United Nations, effectively banning all international trade except for food and medicine. Such sanctions were established in the face of increased political violence in Haitiviolence that stemmed directly from the 1991 ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the vehement anti-democracy tactics of the nations subsequent military regime.

Wracked by poverty and fearing for their lives under Haitis oppressive military rule, many Haitians risked almost certain death in their attempts to escape their homeland. Boatloads of Haitian people seeking refuge on U.S. shores were returned to Haiti by the Coast Guard; passengers were then placed in police custody. As reported in Jet magazine, Robinson deemed this a profoundly racist policy that made President Clinton complicitous in the behavior of Haitian military leaders as they murder anyone who favors democracy in that country.

But on May 8, 1994, Clinton agreed to allow asylum hearings at sea to Haitian refugees, deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to grant each one entry into the United States. According to the New York Times, escalating violence in Haiti throughout the spring of 1994 made the new asylum policy necessary. The Times also noted that administration officials were considering the use of American military force in Haiti to restore democracy, quoting President Clinton as saying, The United States has clear interests at stake in ending this crisis.

Although Clinton claimed that he would not allow Robinsons actions to influence the administrations decisions on Haitian immigration, many political observers felt that the 27-day-long fast, which landed Robinson in the hospital briefly for dehydration by the third week, played a key role in the policy change. Clearly, Robinsons passion, commitment, and political savvycombined with financial support from corporate giants like Coca-Cola, Nike, Reebok, and Anheuser-Buschmake him and TransAfrica indisputable forces in the continued fight for racial justice worldwide.

Sources

Books

The African Americans, edited by David Cohen and Charles M. Collins, Viking Studio Books, 1993.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, October 1985, p. 29; August 1992, p. 53.

Boston Globe, February 21, 1990, p. 3.

Chicago Sun-Times, April 24, 1994.

Dollars & Sense, May 1994, pp. 8-15.

Ebony, July 1987, p. 108; May 1993, p. 48.

Emerge, October 1993, p. 33.

Essence, March 1993, p. 170.

Jet, May 2, 1994, pp. 5-6.

New Republic, July 9-16, 1990, p. 14.

Newsweek, July 29, 1991, p. 8; April 18, 1994, p. 4.

New York Times, October 5, 1989, p. A31; September 25, 1990, p. A27; August 22, 1991, p. C12; May 9, 1994; May 23, 1994.

People, May 23, 1994.

Time, November 25, 1985, p. 41.

Washington Post, March 19, 1992, p. A19; August 24, 1992, p. A17.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Associated Press wire reports dated May 7, 1994; May 8, 1994; and May 22, 1994.

Isaac Rosen and Barbara Carlisle Bigelow

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Robinson, Randall 1942(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Robinson, Randall 1942(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-randall-1942

"Robinson, Randall 1942(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/robinson-randall-1942

Randall Robinson

Randall Robinson

Randall Robinson (born 1941) is an internationally recognized author and foreign policy activist. In 1977, he founded TransAfrica—a lobbying group dedicated to promoting "enlightened and progressive" U.S. foreign policy toward countries in Africa and the Caribbean. As president of TransAfrica, Robinson led the U.S. campaign to bring democracy to South Africa, putting an end to that county's apartheid policies.

Beginnings

Randall Robinson, the son of Maxie Robinson and his wife Doris, was born on July 6, 1941, in Richmond, Virginia. He spent the first 15 years of his life in a ground-floor flat in the African American section of Richmond. Maxie Robinson taught history by day and coached athletics in the evening, while Doris was a full-time homemaker. Robinson's parents were both college graduates. 26-year-old Maxie Robinson and 18-year-old Doris Jones had met in Richmond, Virginia, at Virginia Union University. Doris was attending the school as preparation for a teaching career. Maxie was a star athlete. They married on August 31, 1936.

Robinson states in his autobiography, Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, that his grandmother raised his father to be "a highly principled teetotaler, unaccustomed to the social domesticities of family life and with small gift for intimacy." Robinson's paternal grandparents had married in Richmond, Virginia, when they were still adolescents. They divorced shortly after Maxie was born. Maxie's father subsequently left for Baltimore where he remarried and lost contact with his son. Robinson's grandmother, meanwhile, remarried a recovered alcoholic who worked for the railroad.

According to Robinson, his mother, born Doris Alma Jones, was raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a large, white two-story house. She was the first of seven children born to Nathan and Jeanie Jones. Robinson wrote of his family heritage in Defending the Spirit, "Mama's family was deep and eternal. Daddy's was small and patched."

Childhood

One of four children born to Maxie and Doris Robinson, Robinson was surrounded by books when he was growing up. His older sister, Jewell, was an excellent student and eventually won a scholarship that allowed her to become the first African American student to attend Goucher College. Robinson's brother, Maxie Jr., who won an even more lucrative scholarship, became the nation's first African American news anchor on ABC's World News Tonight. Robinson, however, was more of a late bloomer and headed off for Norfolk State College on a basketball scholarship, later transferring to Virginia Union University. His younger sister, Jeanie, would eventually become an elementary school teacher in Washington, D.C.

On May 17, 1954, 13-year-old Robinson was sitting in his science class when his teacher announced that the Supreme Court had just ruled that public school segregation violated the U.S. Constitution. Robinson later said he never expected the ruling—but in any case, he later pointed out, forty-three years after the decision was handed down, Richmond's schools were still as segregated as they were in 1954.

Robinson claims he never met a white person until he was drafted into the Army in 1963. Following his discharge from the service—which came just as the United States was beginning to build up its forces in Vietnam—he re-enrolled in Virginia Union University.

Harvard Law School

In the fall of 1967, following his graduation from Virginia Union, Robinson was admitted to Harvard University Law School. But after one year of Harvard, Robinson says he knew he would never practice law. He would nevertheless go on to pass the Massachusetts bar exam.

In late summer 1970, Robinson left for Tanzania. By then his first marriage was severely strained, and, though it would continue for another seventeen years, Robinson traces its eventual disintegration to his marrying before he really knew himself. Meanwhile, in Tanazania, he found a country riddled with problems. He concluded, "I could best serve Africa by going home to America, for America had become a substantial contributor to Africa's problems… . The United States was doing Africa a terrible disservice and African-Americans, in general, were none the wiser," Robinson later wrote in Defending the Spirit.

In 1971, Robinson was hired by the Boston Legal Assistance Project (BLAP) to provide legal representation in civil and juvenile court matters to the poor. But after he made the tactical mistake of demanding that the BLAP bring in African American leadership, he was fired. Robinson wrote in Defending the Spirit, "My legal career, after less than a year, had mercifully come to an end."

From 1972 to 1974, Robinson worked for the Roxbury Multi-Service Center as a community organizer. Among his first assignments was to put together a campaign against Gulf Oil in protest of that company's support of Portuguese presence in Africa. In the campaign, Robinson targeted Harvard University for its holdings of Gulf Oil stock.

TransAfrica

Robinson worked as an administrative assistant to Congressman Charles C. Diggs from 1976 until Diggs was forced to resign from Congress prior to being sent to prison for graft in 1978. Shortly thereafter, in 1977, Robinson opened an office for an organization he called TransAfrica in a made-over apartment in Washington, D.C. Trans-Africa's two-person staff consisted of Robinson as executive director and Dolores Clemons as his assistant.

TransAfrica's immediate agenda was to change American policy toward South Africa. The United States was at the time still sympathetic to white rule in South Africa. Robinson wrote in his autobiography, "Americans had to be made aware of all the needless hurt that had been caused in their name. African-Americans had to be made to understand that this American policy affront to Africa was an insult to them as well." Toward this end, Robinson testified before Congress and even joined Senator George McGovern in a debate with two U.S. senators over U.S. policy in South Africa.

Robinson faced criticism from some U.S. African Americans that there were domestic racial problems that needed to be addressed before America looked to correct apartheid abuses overseas. But Robinson countered that domestic and foreign policy issues need not be addressed separately.

In 1981, a disgruntled employee of the U.S. State Department handed over to Robinson a sheaf of classified documents outlying U.S. support of white-ruled South Africa. Robinson in turn turned the documents over to a writer for the Washington Post. On May 29, 1981, the story hit the front pages of that newspaper. A year later, Robinson leaked to the Washington Post a classified State Department memo describing South Africa's intention to obtain a new loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Robinson met his second—and current—wife, Hazel, about this time. She was an international banking analyst who had moved to Washington to volunteer her knowledge of economic affairs in the Caribbean to TransAfrica. They were married in 1987.

By 1989, with the election of F. W. deKlerk as South Africa's leader and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison the next year, Robinson was allowing himself to believe that democracy would ultimately prevail in South Africa. Wrote Robinson in Defending the Spirit, "I had marched, testified, written, orated, debated, petitioned, proselytized, and committed repeated acts of civil disobedience… . We had done everything seemly and imaginable in our efforts to turn the United States onto a humane course and keep it there."

Ironically, after coming to power, South Africa's black African National Congress (ANC) virtually cut off all ties to TransAfrica. According to Robinson, the ANC has preferred to work with "the American Establishment and its multinational corporations." Robinson feels this policy may ultimately be self-defeating, given that American political parties come in and out of power with unpredictable frequency.

More recently, Robinson undertook a twenty-seven-day hunger strike in support of democratic reforms in Haiti and in opposition to U.S. policy against accepting Haitian refugees. Partly as a result, the U.S. in 1994 organized a multinational campaign to return Haiti's first democratically elected government to power, after it had been overthrown. Robinson also went on record as opposing the Mengistu government in Ethiopia and corruption in Nigeria. He also fought attempts by the U.S. to end Caribbean access to Europe's banana markets.

The Debt

In The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks (2000), Robinson argued that the United States owes major reparations to the descendants of African American slaves. He told Black Issues in Higher Education in 2001, "It is not complicated and difficult to argue that when you expropriate the value of a people's labor for 246 years of slavery, and follow that with a century of formal discrimination based on race with government involvement that those who were in the beneficiary group stood to gain from the expropriation of the value of that labor. And those who had the value of their hire stolen from them stood to suffer, hence this enormous economic gap yawning still and static, separating blacks from whites in the United States and throughout the world."

Robinson believes the reason that most Americans, whether they be black or white, oppose reparations is that they are uninformed. And for Robinson, that is the crux of the matter. He feels that the American citizenry is in a state of denial about the suffering that the United States has caused to people in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

When Black Issues in Higher Education asked Robinson in 2001 how optimistic he was about the prospects of the reparations movement, he replied, "I'm very optimistic. I put no clock on these things, you see. I don't know [if] it will happen in my lifetime in the same way I didn't know if apartheid would end in my lifetime… . But you fight pre pared to go the long term, and if your life won't cover the term of the struggle, then you hand off your progress to the next generation. Seen in that light, I'm extremely optimistic (reparations) will happen."

Recognition

Robinson has been awarded nineteen honorary doctorates. His contributions to altering U.S. foreign policy have been recognized by the United Nations, the Congressional Black Caucus, Harvard University, the Essence Magazine Awards Show, the Martin Luther King Center for Non-violent

Change, the NAACP, and the Ebony Magazine Awards Show. He has also been named ABC-News Person of the Week. Robinson has appeared on ABC's Nightline, CBS's 60 Minutes, NBC's Today Show, CNN, C-Span, and other American television programs.

Robinson is the author of three books, Defending the Spirit, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other. He has begun work on a fourth book, about the past and ongoing impact of U.S. foreign policy on English-speaking nations in the Caribbean. He makes his home on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts with his wife and daughter.

Books

Robinson, Randall, Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, Dutton, 1998.

Periodicals

"Fighting the good fight," Black Issues in Higher Education, November 8, 2001.

"Randall and Hazel Robinson: what's love got to do with it?" Essence, February 1991. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Randall Robinson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Randall Robinson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/randall-robinson

"Randall Robinson." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/randall-robinson